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Babies raised in bilingual homes learn new words differently than infants learning one language
Date:9/27/2007

with two different objects. Experiment 1 included a heterogeneous sample of bilingual babies (i.e., those exposed to English and another language). Experiment 2 tested two homogeneous groups of bilingual infants (English-French and English-Chinese). In both experiments, infants were repeatedly presented with a crown-shaped object that was called bih and a molecule-shaped object called dih. They were then tested on their ability to notice a switch in an objects name (for example, the molecule-shaped object being called bih instead of dih). In all of the groups, the bilingual infants failed to notice the minimal change in the objects name until 20 months of age, whereas monolingual infants noticed the change at 17 months.

This later use of relevant language sounds (such as consonants) to direct word learning is due to the increased demands of learning two languages, the researchers suggest. Ignoring the consonant detail in a new word may be an adaptive tool used by bilingual infants in learning new words. Outside the laboratory, there is little cost to overlooking some of the consonant detail in new words, as there are few similar-sounding words in infants early vocabularies. By paying less attention to the detailed sound information in the word, bilingual infants can devote more cognitive resources to making the links between words and objects.

Extending this approach to word learning for a few months longer than monolinguals may help bilinguals keep up with their peers. Indeed, previous research has shown that bilinguals and monolinguals achieve language-learning milestones (such as speaking their first word) at similar ages and have vocabularies of similar sizes when words from both languages are taken into account.

Through studies with bilingual infants, we can gain a deeper understanding of language development in all infants, according to Christopher T. Fennell, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa and the lead author of t
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Contact: Andrea Browning
abrowning@srcd.org
202-289-7905
Society for Research in Child Development
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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