This research was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant (410-2004-0744) and a Human Frontiers Science Program Grant (RGP 68/2002) to J. Werker and an O’Brien Foundation Fellowship to C. Fennell and K. Byers-Heinlein acknowledge the support of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Graduate Scholarships. We thank Laurel Fais for her insightful comments on drafts of this paper. We also thank all the parents and infants who participated in these studies.
Using Speech Sounds to Guide Word Learning: The Case of Bilingual Infants
Article first published online: 19 SEP 2007
Volume 78, Issue 5, pages 1510–1525, September/October 2007
How to Cite
Fennell, C. T., Byers-Heinlein, K. and Werker, J. F. (2007), Using Speech Sounds to Guide Word Learning: The Case of Bilingual Infants. Child Development, 78: 1510–1525. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01080.x
- Issue published online: 19 SEP 2007
- Article first published online: 19 SEP 2007
Despite the prevalence of bilingualism, language acquisition research has focused on monolingual infants. Monolinguals cannot learn minimally different words (e.g., “bih” and “dih”) in a laboratory task until 17 months of age (J. F. Werker, C. T. Fennell, K. M. Corcoran, & C. L. Stager, 2002). This study was extended to 14- to 20-month-old bilingual infants: a heterogeneous sample (English and another language; N = 48) and two homogeneous samples (28 English–Chinese and 25 English–French infants). In all samples, bilinguals did not learn similar-sounding words until 20 months, indicating that they use relevant language sounds (i.e., consonants) to direct word learning developmentally later than monolinguals, possibly due to the increased cognitive load of learning two languages. However, this developmental pattern may be adaptive for bilingual word learning.