What Is Speech Repetition?

Daphne Mallory

When a human being repeats what another person has said, this is speech repetition. Although this may sound insignificant, repetition actually plays a vital role in young children's language acquisition. Vocal imitation arises in language development before speech comprehension. Speech repetition begins as early as 12 weeks through what is commonly called babbling. By approximately two years of age, children are creating monologues in which they repeat and manipulate phrases and sentences they've overheard. They use this type of word play to move from repetition to comprehension. The ability to utilize repetition is also important for older children and adults. Continued language development, such as learning new vocabulary or second language acquisition, typically requires the ability to imitate others before language or word acquisition can occur.

Two brain cortical processing streams exist to create language acquisition.
Two brain cortical processing streams exist to create language acquisition.

In 1874, Carl Wernicke made the assertion that the ability to imitate speech played an integral role in language acquisition. He stated that speech repetition provides the basis for original and longer sentences and that imitating language leads children to analyze the linguistic rules, pronunciation patterns, and conversational pragmatics of speech. When children have this language base, then they can begin to move on to speech perception, or meaning. Children are required to learn, at a very rapid pace, the pronunciation and use of thousands of words. If they cannot utilize speech repetition, according to Wernicke, they cannot learn language.

Speech repetition is a key component in learning a language, including a second language.
Speech repetition is a key component in learning a language, including a second language.

Two brain cortical processing streams exist to create language acquisition. Speech repetition occurs in the dorsal speech processing stream. This is responsible for mapping sound onto motor representation, otherwise known as speaking. The second cortical process stream is the ventral speech processing stream. It is the ventral stream that is responsible for mapping sound into meaning. The dorsal speech pathway connects the areas of the brain where the dorsal stream and the ventral stream are located. Mirror neurons are usually also introduced when speech repetition is discussed. These are neurons in the brain that fire when an animal acts and observes the same action in another. Therefore, mirror neurons provide a link between repetition and speech perception.

The act of copying the speech of another not only provides humans with the beginnings of language acquisition, but is also the basis for regional dialects, foreign accents, and intonation. Speech repetition is responsible for pitch, timbre, and emotion. It is through repetition that humans know how to deliver language in various forms, such as song, yelling and whispering. Speech repetition often precedes a human's ability to comprehend language and acquire the ability to communicate with others.

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Discussion Comments


What is speech repetition ability technically called?


My sister had to memorize a poem written in medieval English for her literature class. I can still remember hearing her playing the tape of the man reading the poem as it was supposed to be read over and over as she attempted to memorize the piece.

I was only nine years old at the time, so the whole thing seemed funny to me. I didn't recognize many of the words, and I didn't see how she could possibly memorize something that didn't even sound like English.

She did, though. She would listen to a fragment of it, stop the tape, and repeat what she had heard. She did this for weeks, until the time came to recite it from memory in class, which she did flawlessly.


I started memorizing song lyrics at a young age. My family always had the radio on, so I committed many songs to memory through speech repetition.

This provided entertainment for them, because I often heard the words wrong. I would sing the wrong lyrics with conviction, as naturally as if I had written them myself, and my sisters would crack up.

I often argued with them when they corrected me, because I was certain that I had heard what I had heard. It took awhile, but I was able to relearn the songs by repeating the right lyrics over and over. My sister would record the song on a cassette tape for me when it came on the radio, and I could play parts of it back as often as necessary.


@feasting – I totally agree that speech repetition and the ability to learn to read and pronounce words correctly are linked. As long as both are presented in conjunction, then they can be very effective.

However, I know a man whose mother never read to him. He had a learning disability, and to this day, he has trouble pronouncing words when presented with them in written form.

He has no trouble repeating pronunciations that he has learned through vocal repetition, though. Unfortunately, his mother wasn't great at English, so she taught him the improper pronunciations of many words. Since he didn't have reading to fall back on, he learned purely through her speech repetition, and this made things hard for him in school, as well as in his adult life.


I recall having to sound out a lot of words syllable by syllable in first grade. Since my mother had already been reading to me for years, this came easily for me. I was puzzled that some of the other kids were having so much trouble with it.

The teachers knew that speech repetition was important, both for the sake of learning the correct pronunciation of words and for learning to read. They could tell who had already been practicing this at home and who had not had the opportunity.

My mother used to read me really simple picture books with one or two lines underneath each photo. Then, she would have me repeat the sentences back to her. I believe that is why I am such a good reader today.

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