Balancing Bilinguals II Lexical Comprehension and Cognitive Processing in Children Learning Spanish and English Research Article
Research Article  |   April 01, 2002
Balancing Bilinguals II
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Kathryn J. Kohnert, PhD
    University of Minnesota Minneapolis
  • Elizabeth Bates
    University of California San Diego
  • Contact author: Kathryn Kohnert, PhD, 115 Shevlin Hall, 164 Pillsbury Dr. S.E., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail at:
Article Information
Development / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   April 01, 2002
Balancing Bilinguals II
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 2002, Vol. 45, 347-359. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2002/027)
History: Received May 7, 2001 , Accepted December 11, 2001
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 2002, Vol. 45, 347-359. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2002/027)
History: Received May 7, 2001; Accepted December 11, 2001
Web of Science® Times Cited: 71

The present study investigated developmental changes in lexical comprehension skills in early sequential bilinguals, in both Spanish (L1) and English (L2), exploring the effects of age, years of experience, and basic-level cognitive processing (specifically the ability to maintain performance during mixed vs. single-language processing) within a timed picture-word verification task. Participants were 100 individuals, 20 at each of five different age levels (ages in years, 5–7, 8–10, 11–13, 14–16, and adults). All had learned Spanish as a first language in the home, with formal English experience beginning at 5 years. Gains (as indexed by increased response speed) were made in both languages across age, although these gains were greater in English than in Spanish. The youngest participants were relatively "balanced" in their crosslinguistic performance. By middle childhood, performance was better in English. There were no response decrements at any age between the mixed and single-language processing conditions. These results are compared to those from a previous study that investigated basic-level lexical production in developing Spanish-English bilinguals. Both studies show a move toward English dominance in middle childhood, but the transition occurs earlier in comprehension. The production study showed differences between mixed and single-language processing (reflecting potential interlanguage interference) that are not evident in comprehension.

This research was part of a dissertation completed by the first author in the joint doctoral program in Language and Communicative Disorders at the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University. The second author served as advisor and dissertation committee chair. Funding for this research was provided by a graduate student fellowship from the McDonnell-Pew Neuroscience Foundation, an NIH/NIDCD training grant from the Center for Research in Language—Language, Communication and the Brain (5T32 DC00041), and an NIH/NIDCD grant titled “Cross-Linguistic Studies in Aphasia” awarded to Elizabeth Bates (2 R01 DC00216). We thank Arturo Hernandez, Eloisa Falcón, Eugenia Gurrola, and Ronald Figueroa for their assistance on this project. We also thank Jennifer Windsor for many helpful comments.
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