Journal of Child Language


The benefit of orthographic support for oral vocabulary learning in children with Down syndrome  *


a1 The Open University, UK

a2 University of York, UK

a3 UCL, UK


Children with Down syndrome typically have weaknesses in oral language, but it has been suggested that this domain may benefit from learning to read. Amongst oral language skills, vocabulary is a relative strength, although there is some evidence of difficulties in learning the phonological form of spoken words. This study investigated the effect of orthographic support on spoken word learning with seventeen children with Down syndrome aged seven to sixteen years and twenty-seven typically developing children aged five to seven years matched for reading ability. Ten spoken nonwords were paired with novel pictures; for half the nonwords the written form was also present. The spoken word learning of both groups did not differ and benefited to the same extent from the presence of the written word. This suggests that compared to reading-matched typically developing children, children with Down syndrome are not specifically impaired in phonological learning and benefit equally from orthographic support.

(Received September 14 2011)

(Revised March 12 2012)

(Accepted July 07 2012)


c1 Address for correspondence: Silvana E. Mengoni, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA. e-mail:


[*]  The support of a CASE PhD studentship from the ESRC and Down Syndrome Education International is gratefully acknowledged. The authors wish to thank the children, families, and schools who took part in this project.