Phonology and Grammar in Bilingual Children

This is a very interesting (although somewhat technical) look at the interaction between phonology and grammar in bilingual children. The bottom line – the better their understanding of the phonology of a language, the better their grammar. An important point for kids learning at school in a language they don’t yet master – understanding phonology is key.

2 Languages 2 Worlds

Is speech sound development related to grammatical development in bilinguals? In a new paper by Cooperson, Bedore & Peña in Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, we report on a couple of studies where we explored the relationship between children’s articulation accuracy in Spanish and English as related to grammatical production in both languages.

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5 thoughts on “Phonology and Grammar in Bilingual Children

  1. expatsincebirth says:

    Thanks for sharing this article here too! I read it at 2Languages2Worlds and this was just what I needed right now. My daughter is working on her phonological production for two years now and I was wondering if she shouldn’t also get some help on the morphological and syntactic level too… – This study is about kindergarten children. I’m wondering how the data would change if the children were about 7 years old.

    • eacrisfield says:

      That’s a good question Ute. My instinct would be that the relationship would be the same- I think that when a child’s brain is still busy figuring out how to understand and use a language via the sounds, they don’t have as much mental space to focus in on the grammatical nuances. It would seem to me that this type of “paying attention” to fine-tuning grammar would come after they are comfortable enough with the phonology to understand speech (and text) with less effort. But that’s just my best guess…

  2. expatsincebirth says:

    So, if a child is still struggling with phonology he probably is not able to understand the morphological and syntactic structure of the language he’s acquiring or learning? Every attempt to make him understand these other aspects of grammar would be useless then? I’m just wondering: if a multilingual child struggles with some sounds in one of the languages he’s acquiring (or learning, depending on his age), is he really not able to acquire the other grammatical nuances or does he do so in a random way?

    • eacrisfield says:

      I’m not sure. The studies referenced here are with younger children, learning in a less structured environment, I’m not sure what would happen in a situation where the child was being explicitly taught grammar – possibly the teaching aspect would override the readiness factor in terms of phonology, possibly not. I know that in terms of grammar, there is a progression in terms of acquisition of grammatical items – certain types of grammatical forms are only learned after prerequisite features have been mastered. So for example, most learners can only acquire present perfect tense when they have approximately 85% accuracy with past tense, So, actual grammatical knowledge influences what other grammatical structures can be successfully taught.


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