Are there patterns of language use in bilingual households that best support children’s learning?
Led by Casey Lew-Williams, associate professor in Princeton’s Department of Psychology and Krista Byers-Heinlein, Concordia University Research Chair in Bilingualism, the new longitudinal study will look at toddlers in bilingual households and how their exposure to two languages affects their development as they age.
The five-year, $2 million study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The primary goal of the study is to understand how bilingual infants and toddlers learn two languages in the context of everyday switching across sentences, conversations, and people. The study will follow two groups of 50 children, one growing up in French-English households in Montreal, the other in Spanish-English households in New Jersey. The researchers will record language use in bilingual households, and test the children at 12, 24 and 36 months of age using eye-trackers to measure their word comprehension and language processing.
Researchers will benefit from having the opportunity to compare bilingual children from two distinct groups. By comparing French-English speakers in Montreal to Spanish-English speakers in New Jersey, the researchers are getting data on separate communities and cultures, according to Lew-Williams.
“Their languages are different, their cultures are different, their average socioeconomic status is different, and their governments differ in how they signal the value of bilingualism. Each of these could affect how parents think about bilingualism and how they use language with their children,” he says.