Uses and interpretations of non-word repetition tasks in children with and without specific language impairments (SLI)

Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2008 Jan-Feb;43(1):1-40. doi: 10.1080/13682820601116485.


Background: The non-word repetition task (NRT) has gained wide acceptance in describing language acquisition in both children with normal language development (NL) and children with specific language impairments (SLI). This task has gained wide acceptance because it so closely matches the phonological component of word learning, and correlates with measures of phonological working memory, a deficit in which is hypothesized to underlie SLI.

Aims/methods & procedures: Recent uses of the NRT seem to accept it as a measure of phonological working memory capacity in spite of the fact that researchers have consistently acknowledged that the task taps many language processes, including speech perception, phonological encoding, phonological memory, phonological assembly and articulation. This paper reviews the literature on the use of the non-word repetition task (NRT) in children with NL and children with SLI, emphasizing the component skills necessary for successful repetition.

Main contribution: For children with NL, discussion has focused on (1) the relationship between non-word repetition ability and vocabulary, and (2) lexical and sublexical influences on repetition accuracy. For children with SLI, discussion has focused on these factors as well, but has also considered other component skills that support non-word repetition. Researchers have examined speech perception and discrimination, phonological encoding, phonological memory, phonological assembly, motor planning, and articulation, and have found evidence that children with SLI exhibit impairments in each of these supporting skills.

Conclusions: Because repetition accuracy depends on lexical and sublexical properties, the NRT can be used to examine the structural properties of the lexicon in both children with NL and with SLI. Further, because the task taps so many underlying skills, it is a powerful tool that can be used to identify children with language impairments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Language Development
  • Language Development Disorders / diagnosis
  • Language Development Disorders / therapy
  • Language Tests*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Phonation / physiology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Speech Perception