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Taxonomic development in bilingual children (Lam & Sheng, 2020)

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posted on 04.08.2020 by Boji P. W. Lam, Li Sheng
Purpose: Taxonomic awareness is central to vocabulary development and assessment. While taxonomic development appears largely unaffected by environmental factors, the impact of divided language input on distinct levels of the taxonomic hierarchy is unclear. The influence of scoring method on tasks that target distinct levels of the taxonomic hierarchy is unexamined.
Method: Twenty-seven English-speaking monolingual children, 46 Mandarin–English bilingual children, and 33 Spanish–English bilingual children, ages 4–7 years, participated. We measured superordinate awareness with a category association task, coordinate awareness with a contrast association task, and vocabulary size with a picture-naming task. All bilinguals completed the tasks in both languages to generate single-language (English) scores and conceptual scores.
Results: Single-language scoring indicated that bilingual children named fewer pictures and produced fewer superordinate-level responses in English than monolinguals. All language groups demonstrated comparable coordinate awareness. Importantly, conceptual scoring removed the bilingual disadvantage in both naming and category association tasks and revealed a bilingual advantage in coordinate awareness. Finally, the Mandarin–English and Spanish–English bilingual children performed comparably in all analyses despite differences in heritage language features and sociocultural support for bilingual development.
Conclusion: Depending on task demand and scoring method, bilingual children exhibited slower, comparable, and faster development in taxonomic knowledge in comparison to monolingual controls. This study highlights the nuanced effect of bilingualism on different levels of the taxonomic hierarchy and the impact of scoring methods on measuring vocabulary depth.

Supplemental Material S1. Stimuli used in the category association task (Table S1) and stimuli used in the contrast association task (Table S2).

Lam, B. P. W., & Sheng, L. (2020). Taxonomic development in young bilingual children: Task matters, and so does scoring method. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29(3), 1162-1177. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_AJSLP-19-00143

Publisher Note: This article is part of the Forum: Innovations in Clinical Practice for Dual Language Learners, Part 2.

Funding

This project was supported by a fellowship from the National Academy of Education and the Spencer Foundation to the second author.

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