Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Verbal Working Memory in Bilingual Children

Gutiérrez-Clellen, V., Calderón, J., & Ellis Weismer, S. (2004). Verbal working memory in bilingual children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 863-876.

Language assessment measures rely heavily on the child’s previous experience with language. Bilingual children may be at a disadvantage on such tests simply because of the low levels of exposure to the language being tested. As a result, differentiating children with language disorders from children with language differences among bilingual children is challenging. Processing measures that require manipulation of familiar or simple language stimuli have the advantage of being less dependent on a child’s previous language experience, and as such, may hold promise for differentiating those with language impairment from those with age appropriate processing who are still learning the language.

In this study, the authors examined individual differences within bilingual groups on two verbal working memory measures. A total of 44 school-age bilingual children (Spanish-English) participated and were grouped based on proficiency in one or both languages according to parental interviews, teacher questionnaires, and child’s spoken narrative samples. Results revealed no significant differences between bilingual children with high proficiency in both of their languages and children with proficiency in only one language on either verbal working memory tasks. This result suggested that bilingual proficiency differences have no effect on processing performance.

The results of this study indicate that processing measures might help to differentiate language impairment from language difference in bilingual speakers. In addition, the findings provide no evidence for a bilingual advantage, at least on the types of measures included in the present study.

Areej Balilah, PhD Candidate with Dr. Lisa Archibald

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