Language development in bilingual preschoolers: A cross-linguistic and cross-cultural comparison

Project: Research project

Project Details


There is a fundamental gap in our understanding of language development in linguistically and culturally diverse preschoolers, including those who are dual language learners of English and another language. In order to identify atypical patterns of language development in bilingual children, there first needs to be an understanding of the typical variation in communication that naturally exists across languages and cultures. The current study seeks to investigate how cultural differences may contribute to the variation in communicative norms of dual language learners. The objective of the proposed work is to examine how conversation styles of bilingual mothers and preschoolers vary as a function of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The central hypothesis is that there are culture-specific communicative norms, which result in unique conversation patterns that manifest differently depending on which of a bilingual’s two languages is being spoken at any given time. Using Thai as a test case because of the availability of monolingual comparison data and building on cross-cultural findings that monolingual Thai and monolingual American-English mother-child dyads differ in their communicative styles, the proposed research has three Specific Aims: 1) examine whether Thai-English bilingual children communicate with their mothers differently in their two languages, 2) examine whether Thai-English bilingual mothers communicate with their children differently in their two languages, and 3) examine the relationship between maternal and child patterns of conversation in their two languages. Four naturalistic and ecologically-valid tasks are utilized: prompted reminiscing, book sharing, toy play, and child personal narrative. This is the first systematic study to examine whether bilingual mothers and their young children interact differently in their two languages and in different communicative settings and is innovative in its scope and approach. After study completion, the collected data will be made publicly available to other researchers as de-identified transcripts via a free repository for further study. This research contributes to understanding the consequences of bilingualism for linguistic, cognitive, and social development of children growing up with two languages, specifically how learning more than one language influences interpersonal communication and interactions during the preschool years. The project carries practical implications for clinical assessment, treatment, and education of linguistically and culturally diverse bilingual preschoolers.
Effective start/end date9/24/21 → 8/31/23


  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (5R21HD106759-02)


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