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This study examined the effect of word level phonological knowledge on learning to read new words in Down syndrome compared to typical development. Children were taught to read 12 nonwords, 6 of which were pre-trained on their phonology. The 16 individuals with Down syndrome aged 8–17 years were compared first to a group of 30 typically developing children aged 5–7 years matched for word reading and then to a subgroup of these children matched for decoding. There was a marginally significant effect for individuals with Down syndrome to benefit more from phonological pre-training than typically developing children matched for word reading but when compared to the decoding-matched subgroup, the two groups benefitted equally. We explain these findings in terms of partial decoding attempts being resolved by word level phonological knowledge and conclude that being familiar with the spoken form of a new word may help children when they attempt to read it. This may be particularly important for children with Down syndrome and other groups of children with weak decoding skills.

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