Skip to main content Accessibility help

A longitudinal analysis of sentence interpretation in bilingual children



This longitudinal study used sentence interpretation tasks to consider growth in language processing among school-aged children learning Vietnamese and English. Thirty-two children participated yearly over three time points. Children were asked to identify the agent of sentences that manipulated linguistic cues relevant to Vietnamese (animacy) and English (word order). Hierarchical linear modeling was used to examine change in cue use over time as well as the relation between cue use and proficiency in each language. Findings include exclusive reliance on word order by the end point, nearly identical group-level cue-use patterns across languages with individual variation, and positive relationships between language proficiency and cue use. Findings are discussed within the unified competition model (MacWhinney, 2004) and the literature on sequential bilingualism.


Corresponding author

ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Kerry Ebert, Rush University, 1016D Armour Academic Center, 600 South Paulina Street, Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail:


Hide All
Bankston, C. L., & Zhou, M. (1995). Effects of minority-language literacy on the academic achievement of Vietnamese youths in New Orleans. Sociology of Education, 68, 117.
Bates, D. (2005). Fitting linear mixed models in R. R News, 5, 2730.
Bates, E., McNew, S., MacWhinney, B., Devescovi, A., & Smith, S. (1982). Functional constraints on sentence processing: A cross-linguistic study. Cognition, 11, 245299.
Bates, E., MacWhinney, B., Caselli, C., Devescovi, A., Natale, F., & Venza, V. (1984). A cross-linguistic study of the development of sentence interpretation strategies. Child Development, 55, 341354.
Borovsky, A., Elman, J. L., & Fernald, A. (2012). Knowing a lot for one's age: Vocabulary skill and not age is associated with anticipatory incremental sentence interpretation in children and adults. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 112, 417436.
Candan, A., Küntay, A. C., Yeh, Y. C., Cheung, H., Wagner, L., & Naigles, L. R. (2012). Language and age effects in children's processing of word order. Cognitive Development, 27, 205221.
Cobo-Lewis, A., Pearson, B., Eilers, R., & Umbel, V. (2002). Effects of bilingualism and bilingual education on oral and written Spanish skills: A multifactor study of standardized test outcomes. In Oller, K. & Eilers, R. (Eds.), Language and literacy in bilingual children (pp. 98117). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Genesee, F., Geva, E., Dressler, C., & Kamil, M. (2006). Synthesis: Cross-linguistic relationships. In August, D. & Shanahan, T., Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on language-minority children and youth. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person. Brain and Language, 36, 315.
Hakuta, K., Bialystok, E., & Wiley, E. (2003). Critical evidence: A test of the critical-period hypothesis for second-language acquisition. Psychological Science, 14, 3138.
Hernandez, A. E., Bates, E. A., & Avila, L. X. (1994). On-line sentence interpretation in Spanish–English bilinguals: What does it mean to be “in between”? Applied Psycholinguistics, 15, 417446.
Jia, G., Kohnert, K., Collado, J., & Aquino-Garcia, F. (2006). Action naming in Spanish and English by sequential bilingual children and adolescents. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 588602.
Kohnert, K. (2010). Bilingual children with primary language impairment: Issues, evidence and implications for clinical actions. Journal of Communication Disorders, 43, 456473.
Kohnert, K., & Bates, E. (2002). Balancing bilinguals: II. Lexical comprehension and cognitive processing in children learning Spanish and English. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45, 347359.
Kohnert, K., Bates, E., & Hernandez, A. E. (1999). Balancing bilinguals: Lexical–semantic production and cognitive processing in children learning Spanish and English. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 42, 14001413.
Kuznetsova, A., Brockhoff, P. B., & Christensen, R. H. B. (2014). LmerTest: Tests for random and fixed effects for linear mixed effect models. R package, version 2.0–3 [Computer software]. Retrieved from
Liu, H., Bates, E., & Li, P. (1992). Sentence interpretation in bilingual speakers of English and Chinese. Applied Psycholinguistics, 13, 451484.
Long, J. (2012). Longitudinal data analysis for the behavioral sciences using R. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Long, J., & Ryoo, J. (2010). Using fractional polynomials to model non-linear trends in longitudinal data. British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 63, 177203.
MacCallum, R. C., Kim, C., Malarkey, W. B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1997). Studying multivariate change using multilevel models and latent curve models. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 32, 215253.
MacWhinney, B. (2004). A unified model of language acquisition. In Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (Eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches. New York: Oxford University Press.
Miao, X., Chen, G., & Yin, H. (1984). Reexamination of the roles of word order and lexical meaning in Chinese sentence comprehension. Information on Psychological Sciences, 6, 17.
Morett, L. M., & MacWhinney, B. (2013). Syntactic transfer in English-speaking Spanish learners. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16, 132151.
Pearson, B. (2007). Social factors in childhood bilingualism in the United States. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28, 399410.
Peña, E., Bedore, L. M., & Rappazzo, C. (2003). Comparison of Spanish, English, and bilingual children's performance across semantic tasks. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 516.
Pham, G. (2011). Dual language development among Vietnamese–English bilingual children: Modeling trajectories and cross-linguistic associations within a dynamic systems framework. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Pham, G., & Kohnert, K. (2009). A corpus-based analysis of Vietnamese classifiers con and cái. Mon-Khmer Studies, 38, 111.
Pham, G., & Kohnert, K. (2010). Sentence interpretation by typically developing Vietnamese–English bilingual children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 31, 507529.
Pham, G., & Kohnert, K. (2014). A longitudinal study of lexical development in children learning Vietnamese and English. Child Development, 85, 767782.
Pham, G., Kohnert, K., & Carney, E. (2008). Corpora of Vietnamese texts: Lexical effects of intended audience and publication place. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 154163.
Phinney, J., Romero, I., Nava, M., & Huang, D. (2001). The role of language, parents, and peers in ethnic identity among adolescents in immigrant families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30, 135153.
Ramirez, G., Chen, X., Geva, E., & Luo, Y. (2011). Morphological awareness and word reading in English language learners: Evidence from Spanish- and Chinese-speaking children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32, 601618.
Reyes, I. (2003). A study of sentence interpretation in Spanish monolingual children. First Language, 23, 285309.
Reyes, I., & Hernandez, A. E. (2006). Sentence interpretation strategies in emergent bilingual children and adults. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 5169.
Riches, N. G. (2012). Sentence repetition in children with specific language impairment: An investigation of underlying mechanisms. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 47, 499510.
Rojas, R., & Iglesias, A. (2013). The language growth of Spanish-speaking English language learners. Child Development, 84, 630646.
Rolstad, K., Mahoney, K., & Glass, G. V. (2005). The big picture: A meta-analysis of program effectiveness research on English language learners. Educational Policy, 19, 572594.
Semel, E., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (2003). Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals (4th ed.). San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Squires, K. E., Lugo-Neris, M. J., Peña, E. D., Bedore, L. M., Bohman, T. M., & Gillam, R. B. (2014). Story retelling by bilingual children with language impairments and typically developing controls. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 49, 6074.
Su, I. (2001). Transfer of sentence processing strategies: A comparison of L2 learners of Chinese and English. Applied Psycholinguistics, 22, 83112.
Uccelli, P., & Páez, M. (2007). Narrative and vocabulary development of bilingual children from kindergarten to first grade: Developmental changes and associations among English and Spanish skills. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38, 225236.
Verhoeven, L. T. (1994). Transfer in bilingual development: The linguistic interdependence hypothesis revisited. Language Learning, 44, 381415.
Widaman, K. F. (2006). Missing data: What to do with or without them. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 71, 4264.
Wright, S. C., Taylor, D. M., & Macarthur, J. (2000). Subtractive bilingualism and the survival of the Inuit language: Heritage-versus second-language education. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 6384.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed