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An examination between second language exposure and morphosyntactic and semantic development in preschoolers.

Background: This article investigated the relationship between bilingual children’s current exposure/use of the two languages and their performance on morphosyntactic and semantic screening measures.

Hypotheses: The researchers had a number of research questions including: what is the relationship between experience and measures of ability in semantics and morphosyntax in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten age children, to what extent are children classified in the same dominance group across experience- and performance-based measures, and lastly what language experience variables best predict semantics and syntax dominance at pre-kindergarten and kindergarten age?

Methodology and Participants: Participants included around 1000 bilingual preschoolers.

Conclusion: Results indicated that even though there was a relationship between achievements on morphosyntax and semantic (vocabulary) measures and first exposure to English, the authors found a stronger correlation between performance and current exposure/use. The researchers found that less exposure/use is needed to do well on semantic tasks and more exposure/use is needed to do well on the morphosyntactic tasks.

Relevance to the Field: This study has many important lessons for clinicians working with bilingual/multilingual children. First, while it is typical for evaluators to ask about the child’s first exposure to English as way of understanding his or her performance in the two languages, it is also imperative to ask about current exposure/use of both languages. The correlation between not only first exposure to English (or L2) but also current exposure/use highlights the importance of doing a thorough parent/caregiver interview in the evaluation process. This information has significant impact on the decisions made in the evaluation process, as children who are not frequently exposed to a language will likely demonstrate depressed morphosyntactic skills in that language. This would not indicate a language disorder under these circumstances. On the other hand, failure to develop appropriate linguistic skills in children who are frequently exposed to a language (for a long period of time) suggests the presence of language disorder. It is also important to keep in mind the language community of the child when considering the child’s second language exposure/use (e.g., What are the typical usage patterns of the community? What does a typically developing child from the community look like?).

Bedore, L. M., Peña, E. D., Summers, C. L., Boerger, K. M., Resendiz, M. D., Greene, K., … & Gillam, R. B. (2012). The measure matters: Language dominance profiles across measures in Spanish–English bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition15, 616-629.