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Factors influencing cognate performance (Squires et al., 2020)

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posted on 11.08.2020 by Lindsey R. Squires, Sara J. Ohlfest, Kristen E. Santoro, Jennifer L. Roberts
Purpose: The purpose of this systematic review was to determine evidence of a cognate effect for young multilingual children (ages 3;0–8;11 [years;months], preschool to second grade) in terms of task-level and child-level factors that may influence cognate performance. Cognates are pairs of vocabulary words that share meaning with similar phonology and/or orthography in more than one language, such as rose–rosa (English–Spanish) or carrot–carotte (English–French). Despite the cognate advantage noted with older bilingual children and bilingual adults, there has been no systematic examination of the cognate research in young multilingual children.
Method: We conducted searches of multiple electronic databases and hand-searched article bibliographies for studies that examined young multilingual children’s performance with cognates based on study inclusion criteria aligned to the research questions.
Results: The review yielded 16 articles. The majority of the studies (12/16, 75%) demonstrated a positive cognate effect for young multilingual children (measured in higher accuracy, faster reaction times, and doublet translation equivalents on cognates as compared to noncognates). However, not all bilingual children demonstrated a cognate effect. Both task-level factors (cognate definition, type of cognate task, word characteristics) and child-level factors (level of bilingualism, age) appear to influence young bilingual children’s performance on cognates.
Conclusions: Contrary to early 1990s research, current researchers suggest that even young multilingual children may demonstrate sensitivity to cognate vocabulary words. Given the limits in study quality, more high-quality research is needed, particularly to address test validity in cognate assessments, to develop appropriate cognate definitions for children, and to refine word-level features. Only one study included a brief instruction prior to assessment, warranting cognate treatment studies as an area of future need.

Supplemental Material S1. PRISMA checklist.

Squires, L. R., Ohlfest, S. J., Santoro, K. E., & Roberts, J. L. (2020). Factors influencing cognate performance for young multilingual children's vocabulary: A research synthesis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_AJSLP-19-00167

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