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Six-year-olds’ learning of novel words through addressed and overheard speech*


Recent research indicates that infants can learn novel words equally well through addressed speech as through overhearing two adult experimenters. The current study examined to which extent six-year-old children learn from overhearing opportunities in regular kindergarten classroom practices. Fifty-three children (M age = 5;6) were exposed to a story with twelve novel words in three different conditions. In the Addressed condition, children were directly addressed to listen to the story. In the Overhearing Classroom, the children were assigned to a task within earshot of the children of the Addressed condition. In the Overhearing Two Adults condition, the experimenter told the story to another adult. The results showed that the Addressees learned equally well as the Overhearers of Two Adults. However, in the Overhearing Classroom condition children learned significantly fewer words compared to the two other conditions. Different hypotheses are offered to explain the relative success of overhearing two adults compared to overhearing classroom interactions.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Anneleen Boderé, Department of Linguistics, KU Leuven, Blijde-Inkomststraat 21, 3000 Leuven, Belgium. e-mail:
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The authors would like to thank all the school directors, teachers, parents, and children who participated in this study. Special thanks go to An Carbonez and Eline Zenner for their additional feedback on design and statistical analysis, and Ditte Kimps, Eline Zenner, Freek Van de Velde, Goedele Vandommele, Lies Strobbe, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. This research was supported by a grant from Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) awarded to the first author.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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