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Language awareness (LA)—an understanding of the communicative functions and conventions of language—could benefit monolingual children as they navigate their increasingly multilingual world. To evaluate how non-native language exposure influences English-speaking children’s understanding that different languages can convey equivalent information, 63 5–7-year-olds compared utterances in English and Lithuanian (unfamiliar to all participants). Half of the children also compared English utterances to Spanish (a widely spoken language in their community—94% of children had some past exposure), whereas the other half compared English utterances to Tagalog (unfamiliar to all participants). Children in the Spanish condition were significantly more likely than those in the Tagalog condition to agree that a Lithuanian and an English speaker could be saying the same thing. We argue that children’s experience with Spanish as a community language, coupled with explicit questioning about commonalities between languages, served to scaffold an understanding of LA.
This study evaluates the effects of Age of Exposure to English (AoEE) and Current Input/Output on language performance in a cross-sectional sample of Spanish–English bilingual children. First- (N = 586) and third-graders (N = 298) who spanned a wide range of bilingual language experience participated. Parents and teachers provided information about English and Spanish language use. Short tests of semantic and morphosyntactic development in Spanish and English were used to quantify children's knowledge of each language. There were significant interactions between AoEE and Current Input/Output for children at third grade in English and in both grades for Spanish. In English, the relationship between AoEE and language scores were linear for first- and third-graders. In Spanish a nonlinear relationship was observed. We discuss how much of the variance was accounted for by AoEE and Current Input/Output.