Does offline consolidation play a role in naturalistic spoken word learning for adults and children?

Weighall, A. 1 , Devine, K. 2 , Gaskell, G. 2 & Henderson, L. 2

1 Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, UK.
2 Department of Psychology, University of York, UK.

Previous studies using explicit learning have shown that newly learnt words compete with existing words during recognition only after off-line consolidation (Dumay & Gaskell, 2007; Henderson et al., 2012). However, the role of consolidation may be different or limited when learning is implicit or statistical (e.g., Fernandes et al., 2009). Consequently, the question remains as to whether consolidation is important for everyday learning of language in adults and children. To address this, 40 children (aged 7-10 years) and 33 adults listened to a fictitious story containing 12 novel words (e.g., daffodat). Both groups recalled significantly more novel words when tested 24 hours later compared to immediately. Furthermore, pause detection latencies (signifying lexical competition) to existing competitor words (e.g., daffodil) were significantly slower compared with control words 24 hours after exposure to the novel words but not immediately. Importantly, children with better expressive vocabulary knowledge showed larger consolidation effects for the novel words, both in terms of strengthening explicit knowledge and lexical integration. Off-line consolidation is therefore required for the integration of new information with established knowledge when words are learned under naturalistic conditions. Furthermore, a richer established body of vocabulary knowledge may support consolidation and integration of new vocabulary.