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Novel word learning at 21 months predicts receptive vocabulary outcomes in later childhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2019

Vinaya RAJAN*
University of the Sciences
Missouri Western State University
Katherine RIDGE
University of Minnesota
The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Nationwide Children's Hospital
Roberta Michnick GOLINKOFF
University of Delaware
Temple University
The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Nationwide Children's Hospital
City University of New York
*Correspondence author: University of the Sciences, 600 S. 43rd St., Philadelphia, PA 19104. E-mail:


Several aspects of early language skills, including parent-report measures of vocabulary, phoneme discrimination, speech segmentation, and speed of lexical access predict later childhood language outcomes. To date, no studies have examined the long-term predictive validity of novel word learning. We examined whether individual differences in novel word learning at 21 months predict later childhood receptive vocabulary outcomes rather than generalized cognitive abilities. Twenty-eight 21-month-olds were taught novel words using a modified version of the Intermodal Preferential Looking Paradigm. Seventeen children (range 7–10 years) returned to participate in a longitudinal follow-up. Novel word learning in infancy uniquely accounted for 22% of the variance in childhood receptive vocabulary but did not predict later childhood visuospatial ability or non-verbal IQ. These results suggest that the ability to associate novel sound patterns to novel objects, an index of the process of word learning, may be especially important for long-term language mastery.

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