Story retelling by bilingual children with language impairments and typically developing controls




To date there is limited information documenting growth patterns in the narratives of bilingual children with and without primary language impairment (PLI).


This study was designed to determine whether bilingual children with and without PLI present similar gains from kindergarten to first grade in the macro- and microstructure of stories told in Spanish and English.

Methods & Procedures

In this longitudinal study, 21 bilingual children identified with PLI were each matched to a bilingual typically developing (TD) peer on age, sex, non-verbal IQ and language exposure. During their kindergarten and first-grade years, children retold stories from wordless picture books in Spanish (L1) and English (L2).

Outcomes & Results

Overall, TD children outperformed those with PLI on measures of macro- and microstructure at both time points. For the macrostructure measure, the TD group made significantly larger improvements in both languages from kindergarten to first grade than the PLI group. For microstructure, the TD children made more gains on their Spanish retells than their English retells. However, the PLI children's microstructure scores did not differ from kindergarten to first grade in either language. We found that macrostructure scores in Spanish at kindergarten predicted macrostructure scores in English at first grade when English experience was held constant. However, this same relationship across languages was not evident in microstructure.

Conclusions & Implications

TD and PLI children differed in the development of narrative macro- and microstructure between kindergarten and first grade. The TD bilinguals transferred conceptually dependent narrative skills easily, but then had to learn independently the nuances of each language to be successful using literate language. Because most children with PLI need more exposure to establish strong connections between their L1 and L2, they had more difficulty transferring their knowledge of literate language forms from one language to another.