Skip to main content Accessibility help

Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children

  • Ellen Bialystok (a1), Gigi Luk (a2), Kathleen F. Peets (a3) and Sujin YANG (a4)


Studies often report that bilingual participants possess a smaller vocabulary in the language of testing than monolinguals, especially in research with children. However, each study is based on a small sample so it is difficult to determine whether the vocabulary difference is due to sampling error. We report the results of an analysis of 1,738 children between 3 and 10 years old and demonstrate a consistent difference in receptive vocabulary between the two groups. Two preliminary analyses suggest that this difference does not change with different language pairs and is largely confined to words relevant to a home context rather than a school context.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Ellen Bialystok, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3,


Hide All

This work was partially supported by grant R01HD052523 from the US National Institutes of Health and by grant A2559 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to the first author. We thank Jessica Cheung and Michael Bonares for their assistance in data compilation.



Hide All
Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2008). Cognitive control and lexical access in younger and older bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 859873.
Bialystok, E., Luk, G., & Kwan, E. (2005). Bilingualism, biliteracy, and learning to read: Interactions among languages and writing systems. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9, 4361.
Bracken, B. A., & Murray, A. M. (1984). Stability and predictive validity of the PPVT-R over an eleven month interval. Educational & Psychological Research, 4, 4144.
Curran, P. J., & Hussong, A. M. (2009). Integrative data analysis: The simultaneous analysis of multiple data sets. Psychological Methods, 14, 81100.
Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – Third Edition. Bloomington, MN: Pearson Assessments.
Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Cera, C., & Sandoval, T. C. (2008). More use almost always means a smaller frequency effect: Aging, bilingualism, and the weaker links hypothesis. Journal of Memory and Language, 58, 787814.
Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Fennema-Notestine, C., & Morris, S. K. (2005). Bilingualism affects picture naming but not picture classification. Memory & Cognition, 33, 12201234.
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexico–semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.10.1017/S1366728998000133
Ivanova, I., & Costa, A. (2008). Does bilingualism hamper lexical access in highly-proficient bilinguals? Acta Psychologica, 127, 277288.
Jastek, J. F., & Wilkinson, G. (1984). The wide-range achievement test – revised. Wilmington, DE: Jastak Associates.
Kastner, J. W., May, W., & Hildman, L. (2001). Relationship between language skills and academic achievement in first grade. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 92, 381390.
Lewis, C., Koyasu, M., Oh, S., Ogawa, A., Short, B., & Huang, Z. (2009). Culture, executive function, and social understanding. In Kewis, C. & Carpendale, J. I. M. (eds.), Social interaction and the development of executive function: Special issue of New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 123, 69–85.
Luk, G., & Bialystok, E. (2008). Common and distinct cognitive bases for reading in English–Cantonese Bilinguals. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29, 269289.
Oller, D. K., Pearson, B. Z., & Cobo-Lewis, A. B. (2007). Profile effects in early bilingual language and literacy. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28, 191230.
Ouellette, G. P. (2006). What's meaning got to do with it: The role of vocabulary in word reading and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 554566.
Peets, K. F., & Bialystok, E. (2009). Dissociations between academic discourse and language proficiency among bilingual kindergarteners. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Denver, CO.
Portocarrero, J. S., Burright, R. G., & Donovick, P. J. (2007). Vocabulary and verbal fluency of bilingual and monolingual college students. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 22, 415422.
Ricketts, J., Nation, K., & Bishop, D. V. M. (2007). Vocabulary is important for some, but not all reading skills. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11, 235257.10.1080/10888430701344306
Rohde, T. E., & Thompson, L. A. (2007). Predicting academic achievement with cognitive ability. Intelligence, 35, 8392.
Smith, T. C., Smith, B. L., & Dobbs, K. (1991). Relationship between the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – revised, wide range achievement test – revised, and Wechsler intelligence scale for children – revised. Journal of School Psychology, 29, 5356.
Swanson, H. L., Rosston, K., Gerber, M., & Solari, E. (2008). Influence of oral language and phonological processing on children's bilingual reading. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 413429.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children

  • Ellen Bialystok (a1), Gigi Luk (a2), Kathleen F. Peets (a3) and Sujin YANG (a4)


Altmetric attention score

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.