Oral and Written Word Learning in Special Populations: Dyslexia, SLI, and Second-Language Learners

Oral and Written Word Learning in Special Populations: Dyslexia, SLI, and Second-Language Learners

First Author: Suzanne Adlof -- University of South Carolina
Keywords: Word Learning, EAL, Eye movements, Reading, Vocabulary
Abstract / Summary: 

Word knowledge is an important component of literacy, and there is much evidence for bidirectional relationships between vocabulary knowledge and reading skills. In this symposium, we present four studies examining aspects of oral and written word learning by children from populations known to struggle with vocabulary, including individuals with reading and/or language impairment and individuals learning a second language. The four studies include one examining incidental orthographic word learning (Joseph), two examining word learning following explicit instruction, one with orthography present (Baron et al.) and one without orthography (Adlof), and one involving a written fast mapping task with high constraint contexts (Wolter). We further consider environmental and cognitive factors that may facilitate word learning within and across populations. Discussant Jessie Ricketts will synthesize results across studies with an eye toward future directions, research, and clinical implications.

Symposium Papers: 

Incidental word learning during reading in children who speak English as an additional language: Evidence from eye movements

First Author/Chair:Holly Joseph -- University of Reading

Purpose. Children who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) have poorer vocabularies and show poorer attainment than their peers whose First Language is English (FLE), yet they also make faster progress in literacy, suggesting that they may employ particular skills or strategies that enable their rapid improvement. One possible candidate for this is the controversial bilingual advantage in word learning.

Method. EAL and FLE children read a series of sentences containing six presentations of low frequency unfamiliar words over two training sessions while their eye movements were monitored. Target words were embedded in semantically similar or semantically diverse sentential contexts. Children also read the target words in neutral or informative sentences before and after exposure.

Results. Preliminary results show that EAL children demonstrated evidence of better learning (a larger difference between pre- and post-test reading times), earlier learning (a more rapid reduction in reading times during exposure), and more evidence of lexicalisation of new words (effects of contextual diversity in earlier eye movement measures) than their FLE peers.

Conclusions. Preliminary results are consistent with the controversial bilingual advantage for word learning. EAL children’s relatively rapid incidental vocabulary learning under tightly controlled conditions may be due to their experience in learning new words with fewer encounters (by virtue of using each language only part of the time) and their experience encountering words in more diverse contexts (i.e. language environments). These experiences may lead to superior cognitive flexibility, argued to be responsible for the bilingual advantage.

Oral Word Learning in Children with Dyslexia, SLI, and Typical Development

First Author/Chair:Suzanne Adlof -- University of South Carolina

Purpose: Children with dyslexia and children with specific language impairment (SLI) exhibit word-learning difficulties, but few studies have investigated word learning in both groups simultaneously. This study compared and contrasted oral word learning profiles in children with dyslexia (DYS), SLI, both SLI and dyslexia (SLI-DYS), and typical development (TD).

Method: Participants included 168 second-grade students (22 DYS, 32 SLI, 66 SLI-DYS, 48 TD). They were taught novel names for eight novel object referents within a computerized script that provided multiple exposures to the spoken word form, descriptions of object features, and opportunities to practice recalling object names and recognizing objects from multiple choices. Following training, participants completed five tasks assessing phonological and semantic recall and recognition. They also completed a battery of norm-referenced language and reading assessments.

Results: Preliminary analyses indicate that the DYS and SLI groups performed significantly worse than TD across measures of word learning. The DYS group was significantly less accurate than the SLI group on the tasks that assessed phonological representations, but the two groups performed similarly to each other on verbal tasks that assessed semantic representations.

Conclusions: Preliminary results suggest that, in response to supportive oral vocabulary instruction, children with DYS actually experience greater word learning deficits than children with SLI, despite having stronger general oral language skills. Planned analyses will examine potential predictors of word learning performance, including phonological working memory and existing vocabulary knowledge, within and across groups. Research and clinical implications will be discussed.

Orthotactic Influences on Children’s Written Word Learning in Children with Language Impairment

First Author/Chair:Julie Wolter -- University of Montana

Purpose: The purpose was to determine how orthotactic and phonotactic probabilities influenced the rapid development of written word learning and how this differs between children with and without language impairment (LI).

Method: Participants: A total of 101 kindergarten and first-grade children with (n = 48) and without (n=52) LI were tested (hearing and cognition were within typical limits and English was the primary language). Procedures: The children completed an orthographic learning task (Wolter, & Apel, 2010) that varied according to phonotactic and orthotactic probability.

Results: Children with typical language skills performed significantly better than children with LI on tasks of orthographic learning. However, no significant differences were found between groups regarding orthotactic and phonotactic influences. All children performed significantly better of words of high orthotactic probability regardless of phonotactic probability.

Conclusions: Preliminary results suggest that the ability to quickly develop mental graphemic representations for written word learning appears to be positively affected by the statistical orthotactic regularities within words. Children with LI appear to develop the same underlying linguistic skills as their typically developing peers (albeit slower), and the linguistically-based skill of orthographic knowledge may boost written-word learning in both populations. Research and clinical implications will be discussed.

Predictors of orthographic boost during word learning in second-graders with dyslexia and language impairment

First Author/Chair:Lauren Baron -- MGH Institute
Additional authors/chairs: 
Tiffany Hogan; Mary Alt; Shelley Gray; Katy Cabbage; Sam Green ; Nelson Cowan

Purpose: Orthography boosts phonological form learning in children with typical development and dyslexia, but to varying degrees. Children with comorbid dyslexia and language impairment do not appear to receive this orthographic boost. The purpose of this study was to determine which factors drive individual differences in orthographic facilitation or boost of phonological learning.

Method: Participants included 207 second-graders: 128 with typical development, 58 with dyslexia, and 21 with comorbid dyslexia and specific language impairment (SLI). All children had hearing, vision, articulation, and nonverbal cognition within normal range. Children learned four spoken pseudowords to name unfamiliar creatures; two names were spoken only (orthography absent condition) and two words were spoken and written (orthography present condition). Learning was measured by phonological (naming) and semantic (visual feature recall) tasks.

Results: We computed a change score to quantify the orthographic boost during pseudoword naming, which was significantly correlated with standardized assessment scores for word reading ability, language skills, nonverbal cognition, and the total score for our pseudoword learning referent task.

Conclusions: Word reading ability is the greatest predictor of children’s use of orthography to boost phonological form learning. Phonological binding, as measured by our learning referent task, also appears to predict individual differences in orthographic boost. Future work will utilize working memory measures to predict learning referent task outcomes and subsequent contributions to orthographic boost.


First Author/Chair:Discussant Discussant -- Royal Holloway, University of London

Following the four talks, Jessie Ricketts will provide a discussion to synthesize findings related to orthographic influences on word learning, group differences in word learning, and individual differences observed within subgroups. Implications for future research and practice will also be discussed.