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The role of elicited verbal imitation in toddlers’ word learning*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 June 2015

The University of Sydney, Australia
The University of Sydney, Australia
The University of Sydney, Australia
The University of Iowa, and The University of Sydney
The University of Sydney, Australia
The University of Sydney, Australia
Address for correspondence: Natalie Munro, Discipline of Speech Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia. P.O. Box 170, Lidcombe, 1825, NSWAustralia. tel: +61 2 9351 9880; fax: +61 2 9351 9173; e-mail:


This study is about the role of elicited verbal imitation in toddler word learning. Forty-eight toddlers were taught eight nonwords linked to referents. During training, they were asked to imitate the nonwords. Naming of the referents was tested at three intervals (one minute later [uncued], five minutes, and 1–7 days later [cued]) and recognition at the last two intervals. Receptive vocabulary, nonword repetition, and expressive phonology were assessed. The accuracy of elicited imitation during training predicted naming at one and five minutes, but not 1–7 days later. Neither nonword repetition nor expressive phonology was associated with naming over time but extant vocabulary predicted performance at all time intervals. We hypothesize that elicited imitation facilitates word learning in its earliest stages by supporting encoding of the word form into memory and allowing practice of the articulatory-phonological plan. At later stages, vocabulary facilitates integration of the word form into the lexical network.

Brief Research Reports
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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The authors are grateful to the families and children who participated in this study. This work was supported by the University of Sydney International Program Development Fund. The first author acknowledges the support of the Helga Pettitt Postgraduate Faculty of Health Sciences Study Award, and the second author the University of Sydney Equity Fellowship. Declaration of Interest Statement: The authors declare no conflicts of interest (commercial or financial) in the conduct of this research.



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