Normal aging is an inevitable race between increasing knowledge and decreasing cognitive capacity. Crucial to understanding and promoting successful aging is determining which of these factors dominates for particular neurocognitive functions. Here, we focus on the human capacity for language, for which healthy older adults are simultaneously advantaged and disadvantaged. In recent years, a more hopeful view of cognitive aging has emerged from work suggesting that age-related declines in executive control functions are buffered by life-long bilingualism. In this paper, we selectively review what is currently known and unknown about bilingualism, executive control, and aging. Our ultimate goal is to advance the views that these issues should be reframed as a specific instance of neuroplasticity more generally and, in particular, that researchers should embrace the individual variability among bilinguals by adopting experimental and statistical approaches that respect the complexity of the questions addressed. In what follows, we set out the theoretical assumptions and empirical support of the bilingual advantages perspective, review what we know about language, cognitive control, and aging generally, and then highlight several of the relatively few studies that have investigated bilingual language processing in older adults, either on their own or in comparison with monolingual older adults. We conclude with several recommendations for how the field ought to proceed to achieve a more multifactorial view of bilingualism that emphasizes the notion of neuroplasticity over that of simple bilingual versus monolingual group comparisons.
This article presents a theoretical framework designed to accommodate core evidence that the abilities to repeat nonwords and to learn the phonological forms of new words are closely linked. Basic findings relating nonword repetition and word learning both in typical samples of children and adults and in individuals with disorders of language learning are described. The theoretical analysis of this evidence is organized around the following claims: first, that nonword repetition and word learning both rely on phonological storage; second, that they are both multiply determined, constrained also by auditory, phonological, and speech-motor output processes; third, that a phonological storage deficit alone may not be sufficient to impair language learning to a substantial degree. It is concluded that word learning mediated by temporary phonological storage is a primitive learning mechanism that is particularly important in the early stages of acquiring a language, but remains available to support word learning across the life span.
The ability to process the linguistic input in real time is crucial for successfully acquiring a language. and yet little is known about how language learners comprehend or produce language in real time. Against this background, we have conducted a detailed study of gammatical processing in language learners using experimental psycholinguistic techniques and comparing different populations (mature native speakers, child first language [L1] and adult second language [L2] learners) as well as different domains of language (morphology and syntax). This article presents an overview of the results from this project and of other previous studies, with the aim of explaining how grammatical processing in language learners differs from that of mature native speakers. For child L I processing. we will argue for a continuity hypothesis claiming that the child's parsing mechanism is basically the same as that of mature speakers and does not change over time. Instead, empirical differences between child and mature speaker's processing can be explained by other factors such as the child's limited working memory capacity and by less efficient lexical retrieval. In nonnative (adult L2) language processing, some striking differences to native speakers were observed in the domain of sentence processing. Adult learners are guided by lexical-semantic cues during parsing in the same way as native speakers, but less so by syntactic information. We suggest that the observed L1/L2 differences can be explained by assuming that the syntactic representations adult L2 learners compute during comprehension are shallower and less detailed than those of native speakers.
This study investigated the relationships between home language learning activities and vocabulary in a sample of monolingual native Dutch (n = 58) and bilingual immigrant Moroccan-Dutch (n = 46) and Turkish-Dutch (n = 55) 3-year-olds, speaking Tarifit-Berber, a nonscripted language, and Turkish as their first language (L1), respectively. Despite equal domain general cognitive abilities, Dutch children scored higher than the bilingual children on a L1 vocabulary test, and Moroccan-Dutch children had higher second language (L2) vocabulary skills compared to Turkish-Dutch children. Multigroup analyses revealed strong impact on both L1 and L2 skills of language specific input in literate and oral activities. Finally, indications were found of positive cross-language transfer from L1 to L2 as well as competition between L1 and L2 input.
The current project aimed to investigate the potentially different linguistic correlates of comprehensibility (i.e., ease of understanding) and accentedness (i.e., linguistic nativelikeness) in adult second language (L2) learners' extemporaneous speech production. Timed picture descriptions from 120 beginner, intermediate, and advanced Japanese learners of English were analyzed using native speaker global judgments based on learners' comprehensibility and accentedness, and then submitted to segmental, prosodic, temporal, lexical, and grammatical analyses. Results showed that comprehensibility was related to all linguistic domains, and accentedness was strongly tied with pronunciation (specifically segmentals) rather than lexical and grammatical domains. In particular, linguistic correlates of L2 comprehensibility and accentedness were found to vary by learners' proficiency levels. In terms of comprehensibility, optimal rate of speech, appropriate and rich vocabulary use, and adequate and varied prosody were important for beginner to intermediate levels, whereas segmental accuracy, good prosody, and correct grammar featured strongly for intermediate to advanced levels. For accentedness, grammatical complexity was a feature of intermediate to high-level performance, whereas segmental and prosodic variables were essential to accentedness across all levels. These findings suggest that syllabi tailored to learners' proficiency level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) and learning goal (comprehensibility or nativelike accent) would be advantageous for the teaching of L2 speaking.
Research at the interface of bilingual development and child language disorders has increased greatly in the past decade. The purpose of this article is to highlight the theoretical and clinical implications of this research. Studies examining the similarities in linguistic characteristics between typically developing sequential bilingual children and monolingual children with specific language impairment (SLI) the same age are reviewed in light of predictions from a maturational model of SLI. Studies examining the linguistic characteristics of bilingual children with SLI compared to monolinguals with SLI and their bilingual peers with typical development are reviewed in light of predictions of limited processing capacity theories of SLI. It is shown that data from bilingual children pose interesting challenges to both theoretical perspectives, although in different ways. Finally, the findings from this research are discussed in terms of their relevance for assessment of SLI in bilingual children.
The focus of this study is the acquisition of grammatical gender in Greek and Dutch by bilingual children whose other language is English. Although grammatical gender languages share the property of noun classification in terms of grammatical gender, there are important differences between the languages under investigation here in terms of both the morphological cues for gender marking available to the child and the developmental path followed by monolingual children. Dutch offers limited input cues for grammatical gender, but Greek shows consistent and regular patterns of morphological gender marking on all members of the nominal paradigm. This difference is associated with the precocious pattern of gender acquisition in Greek and the attested delay in monolingual Dutch development. We explore the development of gender in Dutch and Greek with the aim of disentangling input from age of onset effects in bilingual children who vary in the age of first exposure to Dutch or Greek. Our findings suggest that although bilingual Greek children encounter fewer difficulties in gender acquisition compared to bilingual Dutch children, amount of input constitutes a predictive factor for the pattern attested in both cases. Age of onset effects could be partly responsible for differences between simultaneous and successive bilinguals in Greek, but this is clearly not the case for Dutch. Our findings are also addressed from the more general perspective of the status of "early" and "late" phenomena in monolingual acquisition and the advantages of investigating these from the bilingual perspective.
In order to build complex language from perceptual input, children must have access to a powerful information processing system that can analyze, store, and use regularities in the signal to which the child is exposed. In this article, we propose that one of the most important parts of this underlying machinery is the linked set of cognitive and language processing components that comprise the child's developing working memory (WM). To examine this hypothesis, we explore how variations in the timing, quality, and quantity of language input during the earliest stages of development are related to variations in WM, especially phonological WM (PWM), and in turn language learning outcomes. In order to tease apart the relationships between early language experience, WM, and language development, we review research findings from studies of groups of language learners who clearly differ with respect to these aspects of input. Specifically, we consider the development of PWM in children with delayed exposure to language, that is, children born profoundly deaf and exposed to oral language following cochlear implantation and internationally adopted children who have delayed exposed to the adoption language; children who experience impoverished language input, that is, children who experience early bouts of otitis media and signing deaf children born to nonsigning hearing parents; and children with enriched early language input, that is, simultaneous bilinguals and second language learners.
Beyond academic vocabulary, the constellation of skills that comprise academic language proficiency has remained imprecisely defined. This study proposes an expanded operationalization of this construct referred to as core academic language skills (CALS). CALS refers to the knowledge and deployment of a repertoire of language forms and functions that co-occur with school learning tasks across disciplines. Using an innovative instrument, we explored CALS in a cross-sectional sample of 235 students in Grades 4-8. The results revealed between- and within-grade variability in CALS. Psychometric analyses yielded strong reliability and supported the presence of a single CALS factor, which was found to be predictive of reading comprehension. Our findings suggest that the CALS construct and instrument appear promising for exploring students' school-relevant language skills.
It is often assumed that young bilinguals are lexically delayed in comparison to monolinguals. A comprehensive comparison of comprehension and production vocabulary in 31 firstborn bilingual and 30 matched monolingual children fails to find empirical foundation for this assumption. Several raters completed Dutch and French adaptations of the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories for children aged 13 and 20 months. At 13 months, bilinguals understood more words than did monolinguals; at 20 months, monolinguals knew more Dutch words than did bilinguals (combining comprehension and production). There were no group differences for word production or for Dutch word comprehension. Both groups understood and produced the same number of lexicalized meanings; ratios of word comprehension to word production did not differ; interindividual variation was similar. This study underscores the importance of conducting bilingual-monolingual comparisons with matched groups and suggests that if individual bilingual children appear to be slow in early vocabulary development, reasons other than their bilingualism should be investigated.
Few researchers would doubt that ultimate attainment in second language grammar is negatively correlated with age of acquisition, but considerable controversy remains about the nature of this relationship: the exact shape of the age-attainment function and its interpretation. This article presents two parallel studies with native speakers of Russian: one on the acquisition of English as a second language in North America (n = 76), and one on the acquisition of Hebrew as a second language in Israel (n = 64). Despite the very different nature of the languages being learned, the two studies show very similar results. When age at testing is partialed out, the data reveal a steep decline in the learning of grammar before age 18 in both groups, followed by an essentially horizontal slope until age 40. This is interpreted as evidence in favor of the critical period. Both groups show a significant correlation between ultimate attainment and verbal aptitude for the adult learners, but not for the early learners. This is interpreted as further evidence that the learning processes in childhood and adulthood not only yield different levels of proficiency but are also different in nature.
This article reports on a study that addresses the following question: why do some children exposed to two languages front early on fail to speak those two languages'? Questionnaire data were collected in 1.899 families in which at least one of the parents spoke a language other than the majority language. Each questionnaire asked about the home language use of a family consisting of at least one parent and one child between the ages of 6 and 10 years old. The results show that the children in these families all spoke the majority language, but that minority language use was not universal. Differences in Parental language input patterns used at home correlated with differences in child minority language use. Home input patterns where both parents used the minority language and where at most one parent spoke the majority language had a high chance of success. The "one parent-one language" strategy did not provide a necessary nor Sufficient input condition. Implications for bilingual families are discussed.
Children produce a deictic gesture for a particular object (point at dog) approximately 3 months before they produce the verbal label for that object ("dog"; Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005). Gesture thus paves the way for children's early nouns. We ask here whether the same pattern of gesture preceding and predicting speech holds for iconic gestures. In other words, do gestures that depict actions precede and predict early verbs? We observed spontaneous speech and gestures produced by 40 children (22 girls, 18 boys) from age 14 to 34 months. Children produced their first iconic gestures 6 months later than they produced their first verbs. Thus, unlike the onset of deictic gestures, the onset of iconic gestures conveying action meanings followed, rather than preceded, children's first verbs. However, iconic gestures increased in frequency at the same time as verbs did and, at that time, began to convey meanings not yet expressed in speech. Our findings suggest that children can use gesture to expand their repertoire of action meanings, but only after they have begun to acquire the verb system underlying their language.
In second language (L2) research and testing, measures of oral fluency are used as diagnostics for proficiency. However, fluency is also determined by personality or speaking style, raising the question to what extent L2 fluency measures are valid indicators of L2 proficiency. In this study, we obtained a measure of L2 (Dutch) proficiency (vocabulary knowledge), L2 fluency measures, and fluency measures that were corrected for first language behavior from the same group of Turkish and English native speakers (N = 51). For most measures of fluency, except for silent pause duration, both the corrected and the uncorrected measures significantly predicted L2 proficiency. For syllable duration, the corrected measure was a stronger predictor of L2 proficiency than was the uncorrected measure. We conclude that for L2 research purposes, as well as for some types of L2 testing, it is useful to obtain corrected measures of syllable duration to measure L2-specific fluency.
Electronic picture storybooks often include motion pictures, sounds, and background music instead of static pictures, and hotspots that label/define words when clicked on. The current study was designed to examine whether these additional elements aid word learning and story comprehension and whether effects accumulate making the animated e-book that also includes hotspots the most promising device. A sample group of 136 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten children were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: static e-books, animated e-books, interactive animated e-books, and a control group. In experimental conditions, four on-screen stories were each presented four times during a 4-week intervention period. Children in the control condition played nonliteracy related computer games during the same time. In all conditions, children worked independently with the computer programs. Strong treatment effects were found on target vocabulary originating from the story. Pupils gained most in vocabulary after reading interactive animated e-books, followed by (noninteractive) animated e-books and then static e-books. E-books including animations and interactivity were neither beneficial nor detrimental for story comprehension. Findings suggest that electronic storybooks are valuable additions in support of the classroom curriculum with interactive animated e-books being the best alternative.
This paper investigated the predictive ability of expressive vocabulary size and lexical composition at age 2 on later language and literacy skills from ages 3 through 11. Multivariate analysis of co-variance was performed to compare 16 language and literacy outcomes between children with large expressive vocabulary size at 24 months (N = 1,073) and those with smaller expressive vocabulary size. Comparisons between large and small verb size groups as a measure of lexical composition were also conducted. Our findings indicate that, after controlling for gender, birth order, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, total vocabulary size at age 2 can significantly predict subsequent language and literacy achievement up to fifth grade. Moreover, vocabulary size is a better predictor of later language ability than lexical composition.
The current study investigates the learning of nonnative suprasegmental patterns for word identification. Native English-speaking adults learned to use suprasegmentals (pitch patterns) to identify a vocabulary of six English pseudosyllables superimposed with three pitch patterns (18 words). Successful learning of the vocabulary necessarily entailed learning to use pitch patterns in words. Two major facets of sound-to-word learning were investigated: could native speakers of a nontone language learn the use of pitch patterns for lexical identification, and what effect did more basic auditory ability have on learning success. We found that all subjects improved to a certain degree, although large individual differences were observed. Learning success was found to be associated with the learners' ability to perceive pitch patterns in a nonlexical context and their previous musical experience. These results suggest the importance of a phonetic-phonological-lexical continuity in adult nonnative word learning, including phonological awareness and general auditory ability.
The purposes of this study were to examine the dimensions underlying morphological awareness (MA) in Arabic (construct validity) and to determine how well MA predicted reading (predictive validity). Ten MA tasks varying in key dimensions (oral vs. written, single word vs. sentence contexts, and standard vs. local dialect) and two reading tasks (real word and pseudoword reading) were administered to 102 Arabic-speaking Grade 3 children in Abu-Dhabi. Factor analysis of the MA tasks yielded one predominant factor, supporting the construct validity of MA in Arabic. Closer inspection revealed that this factor had two subcomponents, oral and written. Hierarchical regression analyses, controlling for age and gender, indicated that both the one- and the two-factor solutions accounted for 48% of the variance in word reading, and 40% of the variance in pseudoword reading, supporting the predictive validity of MA. Implications for future research, assessment, and instruction are discussed.
Bilingual children's language and literacy is stronger in some domains than others. Reanalysis of data from a broad-scale study of monolingual English and bilingual Spanish-English learners in Miami provided a clear demonstration of "profile effects," where bilingual children perform at varying levels compared to monolinguals across different test types. The profile effects were strong and consistent across conditions of socioeconomic status, language in the home, and school setting (two way or English immersion). The profile effects indicated comparable performance of bilingual and monolingual children in basic reading tasks, but lower vocabulary scores for the bilinguals in both languages. Other test types showed intermediate scores in bilinguals, again with substantial consistency across groups. These profiles are interpreted as primarily due to the "distributed characteristic" of bilingual lexical knowledge, the tendency for bilingual individuals to know some words in one language but not the other and vice versa.