Do bilingual German-English speaking preschool children catch up to their monolingual English speaking age-group peers in terms of expressive and receptive skills in English?
Driscoll-Davies, Sharon Jayne
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The first half of the 20th century, childhood bilingualism was often linked to personality disorders, mental deficits, social problems and even schizophrenia (Baker, 2000). However, this has been challenged in more recent studies where bilingualism is believed to improve cognitive abilities and enhance meta-linguistic awareness (Bialystok, 2001). The aim of this study was to determine whether bilingual German English children catch up to their monolingual English speaking age-group peers between the ages of 4 and 5 in terms of receptive and expressive skills in English, or whether exposure to two languages from birth has a detrimental impact on early language development compared to that of a monolingual English speaking child. The initial study involved two groups of 10-12 children, all around 4 years of age. Group one were the monolingual group, who had only been exposed to the English language. Group Two were the bilingual group of German descent, living in New Zealand, who had been exposed to the German language from birth. Both groups had an initial test modelled on Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-P2) tests, followed by a final test at the end of 10-12 month period. All testing conditions, except for a substituted age- and ability related subtest in the final test, remained identical. There were two research questions to be examined: firstly, the researcher hypothesised that a child with exposure to two languages from birth may develop at a slower rate than a child who only needs to master one language. Secondly, the researcher anticipated that any gap in English skills development would narrow as the children moved towards 5 years of age. Research question one was examined to test significance of results for both bilinguals in their second language, English, from hereon referred to as their L2, and monolinguals at age 4 in their English language development. The findings were subjected to a one-tailed t-test which indicated no significant differences between the two groups of children. The findings related to research question two were subjected to a two-tailed t-test to test for any true differences between the groups at age 5, and similarly reported no significant differences between groups. Mean values did reveal marginal difference for the bilinguals at age 5 in terms of receptive language behaviour. As the receptive language and expressive language scores were not significantly different in both tests between the two groups, both groups’ abilities in these modalities could be considered comparable, with no indication of delay.