Archive for December, 2012

Receptive and Expressive Semantics: Does Bilingual Experience Matter?

The short answer is yes. But, the longer answer is more interesting I think. It’s well-known that we can understand more words than we can express. Generally though, there are strong associations between receptive and expressive language, the more words you understand the more words you can express. We see normal receptive-expressive gaps in early language development, later development, as well as in mature learners. As adults, there are words that we can recognize by context in reading for example, but don’t use them expressively or don’t consistently recall them. On standardized tests however, these inherent differences between the two kinds of tasks are controlled. We can compare performance on expressive and receptive tasks through use of standardized scores often using a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Large receptive-expressive discrepancies where receptive knowledge is much stronger than expressive knowledge can be an indicator of language impairment. How does this work in bilinguals?

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Codeswitching!

So, I don’t know much about codeswitching, but I’ve been forced to learn more about it because one of my students, the recently graduated Dr. Kai Greene is really interested in the topic. So, he’s taught me a lot. Anyway, some things that are interesting about these switches is that it takes skill. Kids may switch to fill in a word if they don’t know it in the language they are using, but they almost always use it correctly– so, a noun for a noun, a verb for a verb. This means they have to know a lot about both languages in order to monitor both. Indeed, those who are most bilingual, we’ve found are the most skilled, and switching tends to be directional. This means that children who are dominant in one language will switch more often when using their weaker or non-dominant language. Also, code-switching is not an indicator of language impairment.

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Learning Words in Two Languages

It’s interesting to understand bilingual language acquisition in the context of existing theories. This helps to better understand and interpret findings, and how well findings fit (or don’t) a theory helps to refine it. When there is an accumulation of findings that fit well, then we can better predict what might be going on even if there is little data.

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