The Role of Working Memory in Vocabulary Development Imagine a very young child who has not yet learned the words pet or doggy. The family’s dog walks into the room while the child is playing with his father. As the dog approaches, both the child and the father look at it. His father says, “There’s the doggy. ... Article
Article  |   October 01, 2002
The Role of Working Memory in Vocabulary Development
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Ronald B. Gillam
    Communication Sciences and Disorders, The University of Texas at Austin
Article Information
Development / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Articles
Article   |   October 01, 2002
The Role of Working Memory in Vocabulary Development
SIG 1 Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, October 2002, Vol. 9, 7-11. doi:10.1044/lle9.3.7
SIG 1 Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, October 2002, Vol. 9, 7-11. doi:10.1044/lle9.3.7
Imagine a very young child who has not yet learned the words pet or doggy. The family’s dog walks into the room while the child is playing with his father. As the dog approaches, both the child and the father look at it. His father says, “There’s the doggy. Let’s pet him.” The father moves the child’s hand across the dog’s back. As he does so he says, “Pet the doggy. Yes, you’re petting the doggy. He likes that.”
To learn the words pet and doggy, this child must attend to the animal, to his father’s gaze, to the sounds his father says, and to various movements. If he sees that his father is looking toward the dog, he has a good clue that the sequence of sounds he is hearing is related to the dog in some way. Moving the child’s hand across the dog’s back while saying “Yes, you’re petting the doggy” provides more clues about the meaning. During this experience, the child constructs mental representations of the sequences of sounds that he heard (referred to as an encoding process) and searches his memory to determine whether he has heard any of those sequences before. If he has, he needs to recall as much as he can about what those sequences meant and then apply his prior knowledge to the current situation. If the words are new to him, he must hold the sound sequences in mind while he tries to figure out what they might refer to.
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