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What counts as effective input for word learning?*



The talk children hear from their primary caregivers predicts the size of their vocabularies. But children who spend time with multiple individuals also hear talk that others direct to them, as well as talk not directed to them at all. We investigated the effect of linguistic input on vocabulary acquisition in children who routinely spent time with one vs. multiple individuals. For all children, the number of words primary caregivers directed to them at age 2 ; 6 predicted vocabulary size at age 3 ; 6. For children who spent time with multiple individuals, child-directed words from all household members also predicted later vocabulary and accounted for more variance in vocabulary than words from primary caregivers alone. Interestingly, overheard words added no predictive value to the model. These findings suggest that speech directed to children is important for early word learning, even in households where a sizable proportion of input comes from overheard speech.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Laura Shneidman, Center for Early Childhood Research, University of Chicago, 5848 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL, 60637. e-mail:


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This research was supported by P01HD40605 to Goldin-Meadow and Levine. We thank K. Schonwald, B. Trofatter and J. Voigt for their administrative and technical help, K. Brasky, E. Croft, K. Duboc, B. Free, J. Griffin, S. Gripshover, C. Meanwell, E. Mellum, M. Nikolas, J. Oberholtzer, L. Rissman, M. Ryan, B. Seibel, K. Uttich and J. Wallman for help in data collection and transcription. We are grateful to the parents and children who participated in the study. Portions of this research were presented at the annual meeting of the Boston University Conference on Language Development, November 2006. This article is dedicated to the memory of Michelle E. Arroyo.



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