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Do semantic depth and learning modalities improve word learning in 3-4-year-old children?

Olender, Chelsea

This project investigates word learning in preschool-aged children. Prior research indicates the benefits of semantic cues, perceptual learning, and production learning when used individually to teach new words. Perceptual learning and production learning are types of “learning modalities.” Production learning provides auditory feedback and articulatory feedback to the brain. Perceptual learning only provides auditory feedback. Also, providing children with a cued definition of what a word means is also beneficial to word learning. Throughout this paper, these cued meanings will be referred to as semantic cues. In this study, these factors are examined together to determine how they affect language development.

This study is part of a larger project involving thirty-two participants between the ages of three and four years old. They have met the criteria for typical development based on standardized screenings. For this study, participants engaged in a game to meet and learn about the names of 16 different aliens. Nonword forms were created and served as the alien names. All words were bisyllabic with the stress on the second syllable. They all had a CVC.CV consonant vowel variation. The nonword forms were composed of a base and a suffix. The base corresponded with the “alien family,” meaning their skin color and type of clothing. For example, all the aliens in the “tʌs” family were purple and have red clothes. The suffix corresponded with the “alien type”: their age, weight, and head size. For example, all of the names that ended in “tɛf” were aliens who were old and have grandkids. Therefore, a purple alien with red clothes who was old was “tʌstɛf.” Each alien was associated with a figure to provide a visual cue. To assess learning modalities, participants either repeated alien names during a production task or were only provided with the auditory stimulus in a perceptual task. These learning modalities were crossed with the presence or absence of semantic cues. After each familiarization task, the participant was assessed by producing the name of the alien, and by pointing to the correct alien when hearing the auditory stimuli. This paper reports on four participants and articulates how these factors interact to improve word learning in children.