Lexicon development in bilingual toddler

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Psychology

Abstract

More people on the planet are bilingual than monolingual (UNESCO, 2003). Early identification of infant language learners at risk of developmental problems is very important for successful therapeutic intervention, but bilinguals have distinctive trajectories of language development, and so means of assessment designed for monolinguals are inadequate. Whilst the adult bilingual's processing of words in her/his two languages is relatively well understood (Dijkstra & van Heuven, 2012), little is known about the development of the bilingual mental lexicon in children (Zhao & Li, 2010).



The aim of this project is the construction of a theoretical model of the developing bilingual lexicon, informed by data from a wide range of bilingual learners, as a precursor to the design of universal bilingual assessment tool. The focus is on vocabulary development at 24 months of age. There are four primary research objectives:






  • explore the connectivity of the early lexicon through a series of priming studies in Plymouth and Oxford


  • provide an exhaustive inventory of the factors affecting bilingual vocabulary development in a large scale study involving 5 sites (Plymouth, Bangor, Birmingham, Kent and Liverpool)


  • build a child-adjusted metrics of linguistic proximity


  • construct a dynamical distributed connectionist model of the developing bilingual lexicon.




 



 



 



 


Planned Impact

Fighting inequalities and ensuring equal access to health care is at the heart of the UK government policy (Health and Social Care Act 2012). However, at present health care practitioners lack the tools to effectively screen the (growing) population of bilingual children in their two languages for early language delays (Kohnert, 2010). The detection of these delays, allowing the provision of adequate care is of vital importance for the social, emotional and cognitive development of children (Snowling et al., 2002). The research plan of this project have been specifically tailored towards the provision of the empirical and modelling data that would be required for the construction of the first universal vocabulary assessment tool for young bilinguals (VATB).

Who will benefit from this research?
There are estimated to be around 105,400 multilingual 2-year-olds in England (extrapolated from UK National Statistics sources and the 2010 School Census, Department for Education), of whom 7-15% (the same proportion as monolinguals) can be expected to experience a delay in language acquisition due to pervasive developmental disorders (including autism), sensory or specific language impairment (SLI). Unfortunately these children are currently at significant risk of misdiagnosis and under referral, with Crutchley (2000) finding that a far larger proportion of the bilingual parents (45%) stated that professionals had initially failed to diagnose their child's difficulties or take note of their worries than did the monolingual parents (18%).
In theory, recommendations by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT, 1998) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA, 1999) are that bilingual pre-schoolers should be screened in their two languages. However, children's assessment in their Additional Language (AL) can be challenging as a great many languages lack standardised tests, and even if such a test does exist the monolingual norms cannot be directly applied to bilingual children as they usually underperform monolinguals (Hoff et al., 2012). Even use of interpreters is problematic as translation styles may vary from the general to the literal word-for-word (Stow & Dodd, 2003). Parental assessment (Paradis et al., 2010) suffers from variability in parental opinion or experience, and the highly promising dynamic assessment (Gutiérrez-Clellen & Pena, 2001) requires a significant experience and knowledge (Kohnert, 2010), making it unsuitable for wider screening applications at 18 months.

How will they benefit from this research?
Providing SLTs and health care professionals with a flexible, easy-to-use and reliable tool to evaluate vocabulary of 18-month-old bilingual toddlers will introduce a massive change in the access to care for the bilingual populations. The VATB would be implemented as a user-friendly computerised interface, allowing health care professionals (health visitors, crèche assistants) to enter a wide range of information about the child together with her results at English and Additional Language vocabulary tests. This would allow them to make an informed decision regarding the child's need for a referral from as early as 18 months, without unnecessarily increasing SLTs' waiting lists (which can be up to 24 months in the UK). This first assessment would be done at an age where a 'watch-and-see' approach (Paul, 1996) would be very appropriate and not cost-effective to prepare for a later intervention. The principles of the VATB could set a benchmark for all countries in need of a tool for bilingual children screening.

Publications

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Cattani A (2014) How much exposure to English is necessary for a bilingual toddler to perform like a monolingual peer in language tests? in International journal of language & communication disorders

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Floccia C (2018) II: METHODS. in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

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Floccia C (2018) V: GENERAL DISCUSSION. in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

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Floccia C (2018) I: INTRODUCTION. in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

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Floccia C (2018) IV: RESULTS FOR STUDIES 2 AND 3: THE UKBTAT MODEL AND ITS APPLICATION TO NONTARGET ADDITIONAL LANGUAGE LEARNERS. in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

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Floccia C (2018) III: ANALYSES AND RESULTS FOR STUDY 1: ESTIMATING THE EFFECT OF LINGUISTIC DISTANCE ON VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT. in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

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Hoff E (2018) ADVANCES IN THE ASSESSMENT OF YOUNG BILINGUALS: COMMENTS ON FLOCCIA ET AL. in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

 
Description First, we have collected a rich database regarding language development of a large cohort of bilingual 2-year-old toddlers in the UK (N=430) who learn English and an Additional Language. We have identified the main predictors of vocabulary knowledge at this age and for this cohort: the amount of exposure to each language, the proportion of English in overheard speech, gender and to a lesser extent, linguistic distance between the two languages (as defined by overlap between words). We have built statistical models that that can now allow us to predict the vocabulary outcome of any new bilingual toddler being assessed with our newly designed took, the UKBTAT. This tool will be freely available to early years professionals or researchers to get an informed estimation as to whether young patients are at risk of a language delay or not. We have demonstrated the feasibility of a universal approach to assessing language development in bilingual toddlers (that is, taking into account any pair of languages), and provided a practical solution to a critical problem: disentangling the "bilingual delay" from a genuine language delay.
Second, in a series of priming experiments, we have also demonstrated the existence of semantic links between words in bilingual toddlers, both within and across languages, and again, found effects of linguistic distance in the way words are interconnected.
Finally, we have developed a computational (deep learning) model of the early bilingual lexicon which allows us to evaluate the role of linguistic distance in vocabulary growth, and make predictions about interactions between languages.
Exploitation Route We are in the process of building up the assessment tool, the UKBTAT, which was made possible thanks to the funding for the original data collection. Through dissemination to early years professionals and researchers, we hope that this will make a critical contribution in providing early assessment of possible language delays in the growing population of bilingual children, early enough for an efficient intervention to be considered.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare

 
Description Bilingualism 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Promoted exchanges with postgrads and staff in this Saudi University.

Some interests from Saudi students to start PhDs in Plymouth.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Front page of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy Bulletin, aimed at clinicians, January 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Not known yet.

None yet (it just happened).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Linguistically gifted children: Pre-schoolers are talented linguists 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Questions from parents concerned with bilingualism in this big city of Saudi Arabia.

Raised awareness of issues related to bilingualism.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Not only amount of exposure but also linguistic distance to English affects the word learning of bilingual toddlers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was an invited conference for Allegra Cattani at the Cross-Linguistic Lexical Tasks (CLT) workshop in Bratislava, Slovak, 7-9 December. Allegra presented our research on bilingualism to an audience of future and current Speech and Language Therapists.

Raising awareness of the issues and the solutions for bilingual language assessment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Poster 2 at ICIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Floccia, C., Kwok, R., Delle Luche, C., Chow, J., Horvath, K., Cattani, A., Goslin, J., White, L., & Plunkett, K. (2016). Linguistic distance and semantic priming in 24- to 27-month-old bilingual children. Poster to be presented at the 2016 Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, New Orleans.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Poster ar ICIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Delle Luche, C., Kwok, R., Durrant, S., Chow, J., Horvath, K., Cannati, A., Abbot-Smith, K., Krott., A., Mills, D., Plunkett, K., Rowland, C., & Floccia, C. (2016). It's a big world: Understanding the factors guiding early vocabulary development in bilinguals. Poster presented at the 2016 Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, New Orleans.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Press release for bilingual families recruitment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Plymouth Herald - Babylab helps young to mind their language 18/05/2015 ; promote awareness of our research activities.

Families signing up.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Plymouth-University-s-Babylab-proves-language/story-26480284-detail/...
 
Description Press release for bilingual families recruitment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Western Morning News - Keeping languages alive 17/05/2015

Families signing up.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Keeping-languages-alive/story-26509960-detail/story.html
 
Description Press release for bilingual families recruitment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Western Morning News - Research team seeks 250 bilingual toddlers 13/03/2014 http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Research-team-seeks-250-bilingual-toddlers/story-20805416-detail/story.html#ixzz2wPP9I3Vi

Recruitment of bilingual families, raising awareness.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Research-team-seeks-250-bilingual-toddlers/story-20805416-detail...
 
Description Press release in a local newspaper to recruit families 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Plymouth Magazine - "Toddlers attempting the impossible!" 2/06/2014 ; recruitment of families for Babylab research.

More families signed up.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Press release in national magazine for outreaching 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Advice to parents - we were listed amongst other advices given by other babylabs in the country.

To be published in January 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-29/january-2016/psychologist-guide-you-and-your-baby
 
Description Radio interview about the project - Kirsten Abbot Smith, 19/03/14, KMFM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact More participants joined in to the study and spread the word.

Increase in participation numbers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Symposium Lyon 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Delle Luche, C., Kwok, R., Durrant, S., Chow, J., Plunkett, K., & Floccia, C. (2017). The organisation of the bilingual lexicon: the impact of linguistic distance on semantic activation. As part of the symposium entitled "How do children build their early lexicon? Evidence from monolingual and bilingual toddlers.", chaired by Delle Luche. IASCL, Lyon, France, July.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017