Measuring Bilingual Children's Receptive Vocabularies


  • This research was supported by grant 5 R01 DC00484, NIH NIDCD.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Vivian M. Umbel, Bilingualism Study Group, Mailman Center for Child Development, P.O. Box 016820, Miami, FL 33101.


Receptive vocabulary of Hispanic children in Miami was tested in both English and Spanish with complementary standardized tests, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-R) and the Testde Vocabulario en Imágenes Peabody (TVIP-H). 105 bilingual first graders, of middle to high socioeconomic status relative to national norms, were divided according to the language(s) spoken in their homes. Both groups, whether they spoke only Spanish in the home (OSH) or both English and Spanish in the home (ESH), performed near the mean of 100 in Spanish receptive vocabulary (TVIP-H means 97.0 and 96.5); in contrast, ESH group children scored more than 1 SD higher in English than OSH group children (PPVT-R means 88.0 and 69.7, respectively). It appears, therefore, that learning 2 languages at once does not harm receptive language development in the language of origin, while it does lay the groundwork for superior performance in the majority language. Furthermore, an analysis of translation equivalents, items shared by both tests, shows that a statistically significant portion of bilingual children's lexical knowledge does not overlap in their 2 languages and is therefore not reflected in single-language scores.