Semantic Development in Spanish–English Bilingual Children: Effects of Age and Language Experience


  • This research is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD Grant R21HD053223). The authors thank the students, teachers, and families for participating in this project.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Li Sheng, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78705. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study examines semantic development in 60 Spanish–English bilingual children, ages 7 years 3 months to 9 years 11 months, who differed orthogonally in age (younger, older) and language experience (higher English experience [HEE], higher Spanish experience [HSE]). Children produced 3 associations to 12 pairs of translation equivalents. Older children produced more semantic responses and code switched more often from Spanish to English than younger children. Within each group, children demonstrated better performance in the more frequently used than the less used language. The HEE children outperformed the HSE children in English and the HSE children outperformed the HEE children in Spanish. These effects of age and language experience are consistent with predictions of the revised hierarchical model of bilingual lexical organization.