Journal of Child Language


The ability to learn new word meanings from context by school-age children with and without language comprehension difficulties 1

a1 University of Nottingham
a2 University of Sussex
a3 University of Copenhagen

Article author query
cain k   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
oakhill j   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
elbro c   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


This study investigated young children's ability to use narrative contexts to infer the meanings of novel vocabulary items. Two groups of 15 seven- to eight-year olds participated: children with normally developing reading comprehension skill and children with weak reading comprehension skill. The children read short stories containing a novel word and were required to produce a meaning for the novel word, both before and after its useful defining context. The proximity of the novel word to this context was manipulated. The results supported the hypothesis that children with weak reading comprehension skills are impaired in their ability to integrate information within a text, particularly when that information is non-adjacent and the processing demands are, therefore, high. Analysis of the error data revealed a similar pattern of types of errors for both groups: children with poor reading comprehension were not more likely to produce a thematically inappropriate response than their skilled peers.

(Received April 18 2002)
(Revised November 4 2002)

c1 Kate Cain, Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, UK. e-mail:


1 The work reported in this paper was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council grant (R000 23 5438) awarded to Jane Oakhill and Peter Bryant and a new Lecturer Grant from the University of Nottingham awarded to Kate Cain. We would like to thank Lisa Butterworth, Kate Lemmon and Sarah McCallum for their assistance with group selection and scoring. Finally, we thank the staff and pupils of the schools in East Sussex and Nottingham who participated in this work.