Book notice: Childhood Bilingualism

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Aug 11 12:51:29 UTC 2006

Forwarded from Linguist-List,

Childhood Bilingualism
SUBTITLE: Research On Infancy through School Age
EDITORS: Peggy McCardle and Erika Hoff
SERIES: Child Language and Child Development 7
Multilingual Matters Ltd., 2006

Reviewed by Magdalena Fialkowska, Surrey Morphology Group, University of
Surrey, Surrey, UK


The book under review features a selection of papers on childhood
bilingualism by researchers from Canada and the United States. It is a
product of a workshop on childhood bilingualism convened in Washington, DC
in April 2004, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development and the Office of English Language Acquisition and
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services of the US
Department of Education. The goal of this workshop was to discuss the
issue of bilingual development in general, and the questions of children's
bilingual language learning experiences, children's literacy and the
relation of educational programs to academic outcomes in children raised
in bilingual environments.  In a nutshell, the aim of this volume is to
describe the state of research conducted in the area of childhood
bilingualism and to propose a research agenda for the future.


The book is divided into 11 chapters in five thematic sections:

Part 1: Processing Two Languages
Chapter 1: Bilingual Speech Processing in Infants and Adults
Chapter 2: When Infants Hear Two Languages: Interpreting Research
Chapter 3: The Onset of Word Form Recognition in One Language and in Two

Part 2: Learning Two Languages
Chapter 4: Bilingual First Language Acquisition in Perspective
Chapter 5: Social Factors in Bilingual Development: The Miami Experience

Part 3: Literacy in Two Languages
Chapter 6: Developing Literacy in English-language Learners: An
Examination of the Impact of English-only Versus Bilingual Instruction
Chapter 7: Bilingualism at School: Effect on the Acquisition of Literacy

Part 4: Perspectives on Childhood Bilingualism from Related Fields
Chapter 8: Adult Bilingualism and Bilingual Development
Chapter 9: Finding the Points of Contact: Language Acquisition in Children
Raised in Monolingual, Bilingual and Multilingual Environments

Part 5: Closing Comments
Chapter 10: Multiple Perspectives on Research on Childhood Bilingualism
Chapter 11: An Agenda for Research on Childhood Bilingualism

The Contributors


Chapter 1, by Janet F. Werker, Whitney M. Weikum and Katherine A. Yoshida,
offers a review of bilingual acquisition research and attempts to find out
whether bilingual infants show the same or different trajectories for
phonological acquisition as do monolingual ones. The authors address the
question of phonological processing in bilinguals, as they strongly
believe that the understanding of how speech develops and is processed
should be based on the results of studies examining mostly bilingual
speakers. Of interest to the authors is also whether adult bilinguals
perceive speech similarly or differently to monolinguals. A set of tools
used by Werker and her colleagues consists of a questionnaire developed by
Alain Desrochers (2003) to assess adult language dominance, and a parent
report scale designed by Bosch and Sebastin-Galls (1997) to ensure that
the bilingual infants have had relatively equal exposure to each of their
languages.  Throughout the whole chapter Werker and her colleagues refer
to those who acquired their two languages from and an early age as
''bilingual first language'' learners. This informative analysis tells us
about monolingual and bilingual adult phonetic perception as well as
bilingual infant phonetic perception. Those brief comparative analyses
show that perception of phonetic continua is language specific, and that
adults have difficulty in discriminating any new phonetic differences
absent from their native L1.  As to bilingual infants, the data suggests
that there may be more that one pattern to phonetic perception. Moreover,
the native language phonetic categories guide word learning once they
infants are able to access phonetic detail. In general, the studies
described by Werker and her colleagues confirm that bilingual acquisition
influences all aspects of speech processing, and that the developmental
trajectory is different for bilinguals, which makes bilingual language
processing unique. For reliable results in the future, the authors
recommend investigating phonological use from the functional perspective
of bilingual speakers, as well as determining factors such as maternal
language and the amount of exposure.  They also advocate determining the
conditions under which the phonetic system of the two languages can be
equally dominant.

In Chapter 2, Anne Fernald attempts to contrast three major traditions in
basic research on early language development. Her comparative analysis is
made along two key dimensions: how they these traditions characterise and
measure language competence at different ages, and the extent to which
each is concerned with features of the early language development. The
first and oldest paradigm (Brown, 1973) is mostly observational in nature
and its goal is to investigate the influence of various aspects of speech
on the child's developing linguistic competence. The second paradigm
(Woodward, 1997) uses experimental methods to examine the way that
children understand novel words. The measure of child's competence is
mostly defined in terms of a forced-choice behaviour by the child.
Finally, infant speech perception approach (Jusczyk 1997; Kuhl 2000)
investigates the development of infants' sensitivity to regularities in
the ambient language(s).  Fernald underlines strong points as well as
weaknesses in these methods, e.g., the experimental way is high in
experimental control, but the issue of language input is rarely relevant,
while in the infant speech perception approach, the relation between the
child's phonological knowledge and their performance is not
straightforward due to small mean differences in attention to one stimulus
type over another. What also emerges from this chapter is a discrepancy
between experiments with monolingual and bilingual infants. Bilingual
children seem to be delayed relative to monolingual ones, who can
discriminate English speech contrast earlier than BFL learners. Fernald's
prediction was that since monolingual infants make a 'neural commitment'
to the phonological system of their native language, bilingual children
would show specialization in two different languages.  She attempts to
interpret discrepant results suggesting that bilingual infants hear less
speech in either language, and stresses that any interpretations of these
results must be based on the question of how linguistic competence is
operationalised in a given experimental design, as well as the question of
how adequately early language experience is characterized and assessed. By
and large, this chapter shows that typically developing infants learn to
map out the phonological categories of the ambient language over the 1st
year, and that BFLA infants should not be treated as two monolinguals in
one. It is not surprising they are performing differently from
monolinguals, if they have to form much broader categories in their
linguistic system.

Chapter 3 closes the first part of the book. Marilyn M. Wihman, Jarrad
A.G.  Lum, Guillaume Thierry, Satsuki Nakai and Tamar Keren-Portnoy
illustrate their findings and compare them with earlier studies, focusing
on determining the infants' age of onset of word form recognition in the
absence of experimental training or contextual support. Two pioneering
studies to investigate this question are presented. They have been
conducted by Hall and Boysson-Bardies (1994) with use of the Preferential
Head-Turn Paradigm (HT), and by Thierry et al (2003), who used the Event
Related Potentials technique (ERP). In their own study, Wihman and her
colleagues pursue the same question using HT and ERP in parallel with each
infant. In addition, they try to determine the role played by bilingualism
on the timing of the onset of word form recognition. They tested
monolingual English- and Welsh-learning infants, and English-Welsh
bilingual infants. New stimuli were developed for both languages, aiming
at a similar selection of familiar words. Their overall findings indicate
that at 12 months of age monolingual infants show a decline in the
familiarity effect, which Vihman and colleagues interpret as a loss of
infants' interest in word form as they are expecting words to convey
meaning. In contrast to the HT findings, ERP procedure did not reveal any
significant effect of word familiarity in bilingual infants. Moreover,
bilingual infants' response tended to be delayed relative to the
monolingual children.

Chapter 4, by Fred Genesee, opens a section on learning two languages. The
author first provides a brief summary of BFLA studies, which started in
1913 with Ronjat's research, through Leopold's work in 1939-49, till the
1980s when BFLA began to flourish (e.g., Meisel's, De Houwer's or Lanza's
work). We learn that research on BLFA can not only make a unique
contribution to our understanding of the human language faculty, but also
have implications for our conceptualization of the neuro-cognitive
architecture of the human mind. There follows a brief account of areas
investigated by BFLA researchers: morphosyntax, lexicon and phonological
development. In the area of morphosyntax, the key questions are the
precise pattern of development of the two languages and its time course,
as well as language differentiation. Children mastering two languages
simultaneously acquire language-specific morphosyntactic properties of the
target languages corresponding to monolingual patterns. The lexical
development of BLF learners has not been as broadly described as
morphosyntactic development. Research in this field (Pearson 1993; Pearson
1995) has shown that although bilingual children often score lower on
standardized tests of vocabulary when each language is considered
separately, the total conceptual vocabulary of those children equals that
of the monolinguals.  Findings in the area of phonological development are
regarded tentative due to scarcity of studies as well as ''the diversity
of issues examined'' (p.  50). Following a definition of intra- and
inter-utterance mixing, the author compares grammatical and functional
properties of code-mixing in child speech and discusses grammatical
constraints in bilingual child code-mixing. Genesee claims that evidence
of such constraints would provide significant insights into child's
linguistic capacity and language learning, and would mean that they
''emerge with the advent of grammatical competence'' (p. 52). Most
importantly, Genesee stresses that bilingual child code-mixing is a
communicative resource for children, and not a sign of their confusion.
The last section of this paper discusses bilingual communicative
competence, and some additional challenges that bilingual children have to
face. In the concluding section the author welcomes studies on the
different age of onset of dual language exposure and the relationship
between the input and learning outcomes.

Rebecca E. Eilers, Barbara Zurer Pearson and Alan B. Cobo-Lewis begin
Chapter 5 with a picture of the Hispanic community in Miami. The authors
look briefly at types of bilingual development, and language alternatives
for immigrants. They elaborate on the so-called ''three-generation rule'',
according to which adults remain monolingual in their native language,
their children become fluently bilingual, and their grandchildren are
largely monolingual English speakers. In the brief summary of two previous
studies, one by Lambert and Taylor (1996) and the other by Hakuta and
D'Andrea (1992), who adopted the concept of ''Immigration Depth'', the
authors stress the importance of three major variables to be taken into
account: generation (depth), social class and language attitudes. Their
own study is focused around the following question: how often and in what
circumstances is the speakers' abstract choice of language decided in
favour of the minority language? Eilers and her colleagues conducted their
research in various age groups trying to find evidence of Spanish language
maintenance at higher immigration 'depth'. They look at language
attitudes, language choice, language use among bilinguals, perceptions of
language use and proficiency in two languages. Their findings show that
Spanish is losing in its battle with English. Only one family completed
the study providing equal exposure to both languages, although all of them
had assured the researchers they would do so. Bilingualism is a bridge
between communities, but it declines once more people become bilingual -
they usually choose to speak English. This chapter also shows that the
two-way schools do not offer any threat to English proficiency, so the
greatest threat to the maintenance of Spanish in Miami is the fact that
this language is not officially perceived as being under threat.

Chapter 6, by Diane August, Margarita Caldern, Mara Carlo and Michelle
Nuttall, starts a section concerned with literacy in two languages. Its
aim is to examine the effect of the language of instruction on Broad
Reading outcomes for three groups of Spanish-speaking students: those
instructed only in English, only in Spanish and those instructed
bilingually. The authors debate which model is most effective, and mention
a series of reviews over the past 25 years, which have reached different
conclusions.  Their study aims at improving the weaknesses that
characterize previous research. In order to do so, the authors have drawn
students from the same schools and neighbourhoods, ensuring that they had
been in the same instructional group since they had begun school. August
and her colleagues hypothesize that students instructed bilingually or
only in Spanish would outperform those instructed in English on measures
of Spanish reading at the end of grade 5, and vice versa. The results show
that Spanish-speaking children achieved significantly different reading
outcomes depending on the language of instruction. If the instruction in
Spanish was followed by instruction in English, Spanish-speaking children
benefited more. They perform both in Spanish and English equally well as
students instructed only in English or only in Spanish.

In Chapter 7, Ellen Bialystok asks the following questions: is the process
of acquiring literacy skills different for bilingual children than for
monolinguals specifically because they are bilingual? What is the relation
between the progress in the acquisition of literacy in each of the two
languages for bilingual children? According to Bialystok, the answers to
these two questions may reveal how literacy is related to other cognitive
or linguistic skills. The author underlines that the manner in which
bilingualism influences each skill is different. Since bilingualism has
already been shown to influence acquisition of each component, Bialystok
stresses that it may be responsible for the alternations of the course of
development for bilingual children. Her aim is also to help us understand
the role that bilingualism plays in becoming literate. It becomes clear
that the three key factors - oral proficiency, development of print
concepts and metalinguistic awareness - make different predictions for the
role of bilingualism in learning to read. Bialystok's analysis is based on
three studies. The first aims at establishing the role of bilingualism in
children's becoming literate by determining the role of language and
script differences that intervene in this relation. In the second one
Bialystok examines the development of reading and phonological awareness
in bilingual children whose two languages are based on different systems.
Finally, the third study considers the question whether the acquisition of
literacy would also be affected for children who were second-language
learners.  Each of the studies shows that exposure to two languages and
learning to read in two languages influenced the manner in which the
children were acquiring literacy skills in English. The children learning
two alphabetic languages profited particularly, while bilingual
English-Chinese children revealed phonological awareness across languages.
Bialystok's main conclusion is that the answer to the question whether or
not bilingualism affects children's acquisition of literacy is heavily
influenced by various circumstances.

Chapter 8, unlike the preceding ones, is not based on statistical data. It
opens a section concerned with the perspectives on childhood bilingualism
seen from other fields. Judith F. Kroll discusses three main issues.
Firstly, she elaborates on the ways adult bilinguals negotiate parallel
activity and interactions of their two languages. We learn about studies
investigating the nonselectivity of language processing, when adult
bilinguals have little control over the process of activation of their two
languages, and when there is a high degree of permeability across language
boundaries. Next, Kroll elaborates on the cognitive consequences of
cross-language activation, one of which is superior attentional control
for young bilingual children and elderly bilingual adults. Finally, Kroll
considers phonological and semantic factors leading to constraints on
bilingual language performance.

In Chapter 9, Sandra Waxman looks at the findings emerging from basic
psychological research on early word learning and conceptual organization
in infants and young children acquiring a single language. She then
identifies points of contact for research on acquisition from monolingual,
bilingual and multilingual perspectives. Waxman's concern is the infants'
ability to discover grammatical forms represented in their language, and
how they learn to map these forms to meaning. She presents two
experiments:  one based on a novelty-preference task, and the other on
identifying objects and mapping them to object categories. We learn that
the link between nouns and object categories, which emerge early, may be
universal, while the specific link between adjectives and their meaning,
which emerges later, may vary systematically as a function of the
structure of a given language. As to the points of contact, Waxman
stresses the importance of collating information on bilingual and
multilingual environments, as well as posing precise questions. She draws
our attention to the fact that depending on whether the L1-L2 mismatches
occur in the semantic, morphological or syntactic system, the relation
between two languages can be a source of significant issues for child
language research. Finally, Waxman suggests launching a full and
integrated research agenda focused on language acquisition in bilingual
and multilingual children in order to foster collaboration between
researchers and clinicians. Such an agenda may result in an in-depth
exploration of the linguistic and conceptual consequences of acquiring
more than one language.

Chapter 10 and 11 constitute the closing section of the book. First,
Martha Crago looks at the implications for multiple perspectives emerging
from the discussion by the researchers from Canada and the US brought
together in this volume. She tries to capture the essence of the exchange
among the assembled researchers by addressing issues of bilingual research
that cut across various domains, e.g., national policies, methodologies,
or theoretical and disciplinary contributions. In conclusion, Crago
summarizes the aims of this volume, highlights the significance of studies
on bilingual language acquisition, and explains the ways to create links
between fields investigating this area, stressing the fact that the future
training of researchers needs to expose them to the links between various
theoretical, methodological and disciplinary perspectives. In the final
chapter, the editors, i.e. Peggy McCardle and Erika Hoff provide a list of
issues that need to be investigated in the research on childhood
bilingualism. We need to adopt a broad approach in order to document the
forms that environmental bilingualism takes, as well as the processes
shaping bilingual children's development. There is also a great need not
only for descriptive work to address the social, cultural and linguistic
contexts of bilingual development, but also for experimental work to
determine the most effective methods of formal language and literacy
instructions for bilingual and English language learners students.
Additionally, better assessment instruments for oral language production
and comprehension should be developed and integrated with innovative
research design and methodology. The final outcome of this volume is far
from definitive, but the discussion sheds interesting light on the
significance of the research in bilingual and multilingual language


This small collection will be a valuable source of information for
scholars and students working in the area of bilingualism and bilingual
child language acquisition. The wealth of information offered in this
volume requires however some background in statistics, since many articles
are based on statistical data analysis. Even though some fragments may
seem easy and pleasurable to read, some sections consist of pure
statistical data analysis. Moreover, the discussion and implications of
the studies can be at times quite challenging and can require more
background knowledge about the subject. Of great help in this book is the
fact that all the contributors briefly summarize the state of art in the
given area, which enhances the reader's orientation in the field and gives
a good starting point for a more thorough analysis. Each article is rich
in questions, suggestions and ideas, which taken together show how much
remains to be done in the field of bilingual child language acquisition in
order to place all the missing pieces of information in correct places.
The editing of this volume is generally careful, with very few spelling

A few inconsistencies have been found in the editing of the references,
e.g., ''Fledge 1996'', given in the references as ''Feldge 1986'' (P. 6) ,
or ''Pearson 1999'' (p. 63) is missing from the references. Other
inconsistencies include, e.g., the statement ''... newborns (...)
discriminate languages from two different rhythmical classes (e.g., stress
vs. syllable timed languages such as French vs. English...''), which
should in fact be ''English vs. French'' (P. 10).

A welcome addition to the book would be a glossary of acronyms used in the
chapters. This would allow readers to choose an article they would like to
read without the fear that something has been explained earlier,
particularly when new acronyms are introduced in a given paper, and others
are being referred to, including those from other papers in the volume.

Generally, this book refers to the bilingual situation in Canada and the
USA, which may narrow down the readership. This is not a guidebook for
parents who raise their children bilingually and need practical advice on
how to do it effectively. This volume is aimed instead researchers and
students investigating bilingual language development and seeking
professionally provided data and discussion.

To conclude, this collection will be a valuable source of information to
anyone who wants to update their knowledge on bilingual language
acquisition and related topics, such as language processing in bilingual
infants, literacy in two languages, adult bilingual development and
multilingual environments.


Bosch, L. - N. Sebastin-Galls 1997. Infant bilingual language
questionnaire. Unpublished instrument.: Universitat de Barcelona,
Barcelona, Spain.

Brown, R. 1973. A First Language: The Early Stages. London: George Allen &

Desrochers, Alain. 2003. Fluency assessment questionnaire for
English-French bilinguals. Unpublished instrument: Cognitive Psychology
Laboratory, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

Hakuta, K. - D. D'Andrea. 1992. Some properties of bilingual maintenance
and loss in Mexican background high-school students Applied Linguistics

Hall, P. - B. de Boysson-Bardies 1994. Emergence of an early lexicon:
Infants' recognition of words. Infant Behaviour and development,

Jusczyk, P. W. 1997. The Discovery of Spoken Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT

Kuhl, P.K. . 1997. A new view of language acquisition. Paper presented at
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Lambert, W. E. - D. M. Taylor 1996. Language in the lives of ethnic
minorities: Cuban-American families in Miami. Applied Linguistics,

Pearson, B. Z. - S. C. Fernndez - D. K. Oller. 1995. Cross-language
synonyms in the lexicon of bilingual infants: One language or two? Journal
of Child Language, 22.345-68.

Pearson, B. Z. - S. C. Fernndez - D. K. Oller 1993. Lexical development in
bilingual infants and toddlers: Comparison to monolingual norms. Language
Learning, 43.93-120.

Thierry, G. - M. Vihman - M. Roberts. 2003. Familiar words capture the
attention of 11-month-olds in less then 250 ms. Neuroreport, 14.2307-10.

Woodward, A. - E.M. Markman. 1997. Early word learning Handbook of Child
Psychology, ed. by W. Damion - D. Kuhn - R. Sieger. New York: Wiley.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Magdalena Fialkowska is a Ph.D. student in the Surrey
Morphology Group at the University of Surrey, UK. She is working on the
early development of gender system in the speech of Polish-English
bilingual children. Her project is focused on the cross-linguistic
interference in BFLA.


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