We investigated how bilinguals choose words in a narrative task, contrasting the possibilities of a developmental delay vs. compensatory strategies. To characterize a developmental delay, we compared younger (three to five years) and older (seven to ten years) children's lexicalization of target words (Study 1). The younger children told shorter stories, omitting many of the target concepts. To characterize compensatory strategies, we compared late second language learning adults to (seven- to ten-year-old) monolingual children (Study 2). The adults often lexicalized the target concepts even when not producing the target words. Finally, we compared French–English bilingual children with French and English monolinguals, all seven to ten years old (Study 3). The bilinguals produced fewer target words than the monolinguals. However, when not producing the target words, the bilinguals often lexicalized the concepts, sharing more in common with the adults (Study 2) in their use of compensatory strategies than with the younger children (Study 1). This interpretation was further corroborated by comparisons across studies (Study 4).