Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Language mixing in children growing up bilingual

Date:
January 16, 2013
Source:
Concordia University
Summary:
Language mixing -- using elements from two languages in the same sentence -- is frequent among bilingual parents and could pose a challenge for vocabulary acquisition by one- and two-year-old children, according to a new study.

Language mixing -- using elements from two languages in the same sentence -- is frequent among bilingual parents and could pose a challenge for vocabulary acquisition by one- and two-year-old children, according to a new study by Concordia University psychology professor Krista Byers-Heinlein. Those results are likely temporary, however, and are often counterbalanced by cognitive advantages afforded to children raised in a bilingual environment.

Related Articles


With immigration and international mobility on the rise, early exposure to two languages has become the norm for many children across Canada, particularly those raised by parents who themselves are bilingual.

How do these bilingual parents use their two languages when interacting with their young children? Until recently, little has been known about how often parents switch between languages when interacting with their toddlers, and whether such exposure to language mixing influences vocabulary size.

To find the answers, Byers-Heinlein, who is also director of the Concordia Infant Research Laboratory and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, collaborated with Dr. Janet Werker's Infant Studies Centre in Vancouver. She recruited 181 bilingual parents who spoke English as well as another language, and examined how often and in what situations they mixed languages while speaking with their children. Each parent had a one- or two-year-old child being raised bilingually or trilingually, having heard English and one or two other languages regularly since birth.

Rather than being a rare phenomenon, the results showed that language mixing is common in interactions between bilingual parents and their children. Indeed, 90 per cent of parents reported mixing their languages in interactions with their children. Parents did not mix their languages haphazardly, however, but instead reported principled reasons for mixing. For example, they borrowed words from the other language when there was no adequate translation, when they were not sure of a word, and when the word was hard to pronounce. Parents also reported frequently borrowing words from one language when teaching new words to their children in the other. Thus, bilingual parents might use language mixing as a strategy to make sure their children learn words equally in both languages.

Byers-Heinlein then examined the vocabulary size of 168 children of parents who had responded to the study. All of the children were learning English, but their non-English language varied widely -- from German to Japanese, French to Farsi. As such, she focused on children's English vocabulary size, while statistically controlling for the words that children likely knew in their non-English language.

She found that exposure to parental language mixing predicted significantly smaller comprehension vocabularies (words understood) in the younger children, and marginally smaller production vocabularies (words spoken) in the older children.

Why is that? Byers-Heinlein explains that, "high rates of language mixing make it harder for children to categorize words they hear. That could lead to slower word learning and smaller vocabularies. It also seems that it's more difficult to learn a word from a mixed-language sentence than from a single-language sentence."

But that in no way means that children raised in a bilingual environment are at a disadvantage. Byers-Heinlein cautions that, "even if exposure to language mixing is initially challenging for vocabulary acquisition, it likely has benefits over the long term."

"Studies comparing monolingual and bilingual infants have shown that bilinguals are more adept at switching between strategies and are more able to learn two rules at the same time," she explains. "Infants exposed to frequent language mixing could develop specific strategies for coping with this type of input. That could lead to cognitive advantages that would outweigh any initial difficulties brought about by language mixing."

Byers-Heinlein is now undertaking new research with French-English bilinguals in Montreal to examine whether these findings hold in other bilingual communities, and when children's vocabularies are assessed in both of their languages.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Concordia University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Concordia University. "Language mixing in children growing up bilingual." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130116123641.htm>.
Concordia University. (2013, January 16). Language mixing in children growing up bilingual. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130116123641.htm
Concordia University. "Language mixing in children growing up bilingual." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130116123641.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Studying Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

Studying Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is studying the popular Music and Memory program to see if music, which helps improve the mood of Alzheimer's patients, can also reduce the use of prescription drugs for those suffering from dementia. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins