Workshop at the Centre for Developmental Language Disorders and Cognitive Neuroscience

Word-learning in Children with Specific Language Impairment: Theory, Diagnosis and Intervention Friday 16th June

80 delegates turned up on a sunny June day to the Centre for DLDCN for a workshop entitled ‘Word-learning in children with SLI: Theory, diagnosis and intervention’. Our aim was to explore how children with SLI learn words, and to integrate theories of word-learning and language disorders with clinical issues surrounding how to support these children. The workshop addressed issues such as how typically developing children learn words; the word learning abilities of young children at risk of SLI; how impairments in the acquisition of the phonology, morphology, semantics and syntax affect word knowledge; the acquisition of concepts by children with SLI; and the diagnosis and therapy of children with word-learning difficulties. A poster session at lunchtime developed these themes, and also showcased some of the current research at the Centre.

Our wonderful group of speakers communicated their work enthusiastically and clearly to our mixed audience of researchers, teachers, speech and language therapists and parents. Chloe Marshall (DLDCN) kicked the day off with a brief presentation outlining that although learning words is something most people are very good at, the process of word-learning is not as simple as it might first appear. George Hollich (Purdue University, USA) presented the results of studies in his lab showing that infants induce a number of social, cognitive and linguistic constraints which help them rapidly learn new words and help them predict likely meanings from a range of situations. Barbara Hollich (Potsdam University, Germany) presented results from a longitudinal study showing that even at 19 months of age there are differences in the word processing skills between children who are later shown to have good and poor language skills. Heather van der Lely (DLDCN) showed that older SLI children with core grammatical deficits have difficulty using grammatical information (for example the determiners a and some in front of a novel noun) to learn new words.

Our afternoon speakers tackled topics with a greater clinical focus. Catherine Bray (Meath School, Surrey) introduced the word-mapping strategies that are used to support word-learning at I CAN schools. Nick Riches (Guy’s Hospital and King’s College London) argued that frequency and spacing are extremely important aspects when introducing children to new vocabulary. Marysia Nash (Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh) gave some pointers on teaching vocabulary to secondary-aged children with word-learning deficits. Natalie Munro (University of Sydney, Australia) showed that for young children with word-learning deficits, both the phonological and the semantic forms (i.e. the sound and meaning) of the word can be impaired.


Sabine Weinert (Bamberg University, Germany) presented several studies demonstrating that naming deficits impact on SLI children’s abilities to categorise novel objects, suggesting that language impairments may subtly affect other areas of cognition too. Finally, Susan Ebbels (Moor House School, Surrey) summed up the day’s findings, and put them into context with other current research. The day was a great success, and we are planning on making workshops a regular event at the Centre.



Workshop Booklet (.pdf)