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Review of  Childhood Bilingualism

Reviewer: Magdalena Anna Fialkowska
Book Title: Childhood Bilingualism
Book Author: Peggy McCardle Erika Hoff
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 17.2295

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

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 Sebastián-Gallés (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 Hallé 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 Calderón, María 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

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 errors.

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. Sebastián-Gallés 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

Hallé, P. - B. de Boysson-Bardies 1994. Emergence of an early lexicon:
Infants' recognition of words. Infant Behaviour and development, 17.119-29.

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, 17.477-500.

Pearson, B. Z. - S. C. Fernández - 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. Fernández - 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.

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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