Word Learning Laboratory


Why study word learning?

Imagine a world without words. Could you learn? Could you work? Could you fall in love? Words give wings to our thoughts and emotions. Whereas most of us — even very young children — learn and use words readily, some people find word learning and use to be slow and laborious. As a result, they have smaller vocabularies and associated problems with reading, learning, and socializing. We want to understand why these problems occur and what we can do to help.


There is another, more nerdy motivation. There are hundreds of thousands of words in any given language and each of these words represents a complex association of information: meaning, sound, and grammatical form. The lexicon, then, is a large, complicated, and exciting problem space for the learning scientist to explore!

If you would like to participate in our research, please c​ontact Nichole Eden at Nichole.Eden@boystown.org. We would love to hear from you!

What is DLD?

Rare is the layperson who has heard of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). This is not because DLD is rare or inconsequential. In the United States, DLD is 50 times more prevalent than hearing impairment and five times more prevalent than autism (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Children with DLD are considerably slower than other children to develop spoken vocabulary and grammar despite normal intelligence and ample opportunity. DLD is a life-long condition (Nippold & Schwarz, 2002) that impairs social (Botting & Conti‐Ramsden, 2008) and academic (Alloway, & Stein, 2014) functions.

Learn more about DLD

Current Projects

The Children's Vocabulary Project (2017-2022)

The objective of this project is to discover how the word learning of children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) changes over developmental time.​​

Improving STEM Outcomes for Young Children with Language Learning Disabilities by Intervening at the Intersection of Language and Scientific Thought 2017-2022

The sophisticated langua​ge of science can be a barrier to the learning of science, and this is especially true for children whose abilities to produce and comprehend language are deficient. The purpose of this project is to test interventions that have the potential to ameliorate language as a barrier to science learning.

Memory and Word Learning 2012-2022

The objective of this project was to examine the memory processes that support word learning in people with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).

Learning Strategies of Post-Secondary Students with Language Learning Disabilities 2014-2022

Most studies of language learning disabilities focus on children or adolescents, not adults. Yet, at the same time we know that the largest group of incoming college students with disabilities are students with learning disabilities. While learning disabilities are heterogeneous, language is often affected. It is thus a pressing issue to find out more about college students with language learning disabilities, and locate ways these students could be supported better in achieving their educational aims.

Early Word Learning (2011-2022)

The long-term goal of our ongoing collaboration with Drs. Natalie Munro and Elise Baker in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney is to inform early identification and interventions for children at risk for developmental language disorders, ​broadly defined.