by Amy Grosnik

In recognition of May Is Better Hearing Month…take time observe your child’s learning, speech, and hearing abilities.

Incidental learning happens when a child learns through seeing and hearing things around them, without being directly taught. This happens when a child learns new words or sayings by overhearing. A child needs good access to all the speech sounds in both ears, in order to be an effective incidental learner, especially since incidental learning typically happens in background noise and often at a distance. (Akhtar et al. 2001)

Here is an example: You and your child are at home on the couch watching television. You get a phone call from a friend and you walk into another room and ask about her vacation. When you return to the couch, your child looks up and says “What’s a vacation?” Your child is learning this new word by hearing your conversation. The conversation is not directly with the child, yet they are listening to what you are saying and learning new vocabulary.

According to Madell, J. (2016, February), about 90% of what kids learn is through incidental learning. Think of all of the new words or phrases that children learn at school, playing with friends, through videos, at the grocery store, or by hearing family member conversations.  Social language like “LOL,” “YOLO” and “see ya later” is situational and incidental. Overhearing allows your child to understand what these sayings mean.

What You Can Do  

Get Your Hearing and Balance Checked … Find an Audiologist Near You!

Amy Grosnik, AuD, is a pediatric audiologist with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and a member of the Academy’s Public Awareness Committee.


Akhtar N, Jipson J, Callanan MA. (2001) Learning words through overhearing. Child Development, 72, 416-430.

Hirsch ED. (2003) Reading comprehension requires knowledge – of words and the world. American Educator, 27, 10–13, 16–22, 28–29, 44.

Madell J. (2016, February). Maximizing outcomes for children with auditory disorders: What are children hearing in the classroom? AudiologyOnline, Article 16315.

 Hearing Loss in Children 

 Hearing Loss and Infant Hearing Screening 

 Noise-Induced Hearing Loss