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This study examined the relationship between performance on standardized measures of language proficiency and conversational measures of the same features used in academic discourse among 24 monolingual and 25 bilingual kindergarteners. Academic discourse performance was considered for both its linguistic and its genre features in two discourse forms: narrative and explanation. Bilinguals performed more poorly than monolinguals on standardized measures of language proficiency, yet they performed similarly to monolinguals in the discourse-based linguistic and genre features. Moreover, genre features were more strongly related to linguistic features assessed through discourse than to standardized tests of these same features. These findings indicate that standardized measures of language proficiency underrepresent the abilities of bilingual children and that children's second language proficiency may be more accurately reflected in conversation.
This study examined metalinguistic awareness in children who were becoming bilingual in an immersion education program. The purpose was to determine at what point in emerging bilingualism the previously reported metalinguistic advantages appear and what types of metalinguistic tasks reveal these developmental differences. Participants were 124 children in second and fifth grades who were enrolled in either a French immersion or a regular English program. All children were from monolingual English-speaking homes and attended local public schools in middle socioeconomic neighborhoods. Measures included morphological awareness, syntactic awareness, and verbal fluency, with all testing in English. These tasks differed in their need for executive control, a cognitive ability that is enhanced in bilingual children. Overall, the metalinguistic advantages reported in earlier research emerged gradually, with advantages for tasks requiring more executive control (grammaticality judgment) appearing later and some tasks improving but not exceeding performance of monolinguals (verbal fluency) even by fifth grade. These findings demonstrate the gradual emergence of changes in metalinguistic concepts associated with bilingualism over a period of about 5 years. Performance on English-language proficiency tasks was maintained by French immersion children throughout in spite of schooling being conducted in French.
The debate over the characterization of specific language impairment (SLI) is fundamental to theoretical linguistics and, more broadly, to the whole of cognitive science. It is built directly out of the pervasive question regarding the extent to which language ability is best considered as a domain-specific set of skills or as the outcome of various domain-general processes. Therefore, an examination of this issue in conjunction with bilingual language acquisition, a situation that naturally entangles both linguistic and cognitive systems, is a powerful forum for exploring these basic theoretical questions. Paradis' Keynote Article is a substantial contribution to this enterprise: it provides a thorough review of the literature on bilingualism and SLI, and in so doing, evaluates the evidence in terms of its consistency with the maturational model that follows from the tradition of domain-specific language acquisition and the limited processing capacity (LPC) theory, a more domain-general approach. Her extensive review of the literature shows that both second language (L2) learning and bilingualism produce language proficiency profiles that are not identical to those found in SLI, and therefore support neither approach. In our view, the problem is in the attempt to dichotomize language ability as being controlled by either domain-specific or domain-general factors. A more inclusive approach to language ability, especially regarding bilingualism and L2 learning, would set out different criteria for evaluating language development other than the strictly linguistic features used in Paradis' analyses. Such an analysis may lead to a clearer identification of how these experiences uniquely affect language outcomes.
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.
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