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Vocabulary Skills Among Bi- and Monolingual Children Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 31st, 2022

Being monolingual or bilingual does not affect the number of vocabularies a child could speak. Hoff et al. (2017) observed that vocabulary acquisition depends on education and not linguistic features. Hoff et al. (2017) also noted that vocabulary acquisition significantly depends on education and not the parental relationship. Therefore, a monolingual child who has practiced a certain language or word use would have more vocabulary than a bilingual child who has not applied the same language routinely. On the contrary, a bilingual child who has learned could also speak more vocabulary than a monolingual child who lacks education in a similar language.

Factors affecting children who are dual-language learners are both internal and external. Examples of internal elements include variables such as linguistic distance, children’s cognitive maturity, gender, and age (Sun et al., 2020). External factors refer to socioeconomic statuses, input quality and quantity, and output. These external dynamics influence both language input quantity and quality. In a survey carried out with fifty-four families, the results showed that higher preference, as well as frequency in using English at home, leads to lower heritage language proficiency for children (Sun et al., 2020). The reason is that the amount of time spent with children speaking a target language proportionately corresponds with the number of known words in the said dialect for a dual language learner.

Most preschool children spend time learning words and vocabulary at school. Volodina et al. (2020) asserted that academic language considerably promotes the acquisition of vocabulary across primary school age. Accordingly, children taught in a common environment are exposed in the same way and could acquire similar vocabularies regardless of being monolingual or bilingual. Sun et al. (2020) noted that children’s vocabulary could only be affected when they have fairly limited exposure to the language of the target. Therefore, there is an insignificant distinction in vocabulary among exposed dual language and monolingual speakers.

Dual language speakers regularly exhibit diverse vocabulary depths in their two languages, with an inconsistency between productive and receptive vocabulary. Armon-Lotem et al. (2021) observed that exposure to input in two languages from various caregivers in dissimilar settings amplifies the variation between the degrees of vocabulary in the two languages. Therefore, some words might only be encountered at school in the approved language and others at home in the native language. Consequently, various words recognized in each language might be different, and successive bilingual learners might not have translation equivalents for all words in their two languages. This lack of translation equivalents might compel that vocabulary item to be learned separately in every language and setting.

The number of vocabularies and how proficiently children speak certain languages depend on the environment and not on whether they are dual language learners or monolingual. Lauro et al. (2020) verified that language exposure from birth is a common human experience and significantly informative in understanding that language acquisition hinges on learners and their environment. Lauro et al. (2020) also observed that language growth relies on the quality and amount of language exposure the environment offers. Therefore, children who are more exposed exhibit high language growth compared to kids with minimal exposure.

Many similar environmental factors facilitate vocabulary and word learning among both bilinguals and monolinguals. DeAnda et al. (2016) identified that word learning is often limited by the phonological similarities of the two languages that children acquire. When there are greater phonological features, there are always higher facilitation effects in learning words. This factor affects lexical-semantic structures across dual language learners and monolingual development. Moreover, vocabulary acquisition does not significantly differ between bilinguals and monolinguals. Armon-Lotem et al. (2021) investigated children developing English after English intervention and those assimilating Hebrew after Hebrew intervention. In the end, the research showed that vocabulary acquisition is generally effective (Armon-Lotem et al., 2021). Equal procedures could be used in both the bilinguals and monolinguals to produce desired results.

Words and vocabulary learning are influenced by age, gender, cognitive skills, and linguistic distance. The implication is that children would have more vocabularies depending on the aforementioned internal factors and not on whether they are bilingual or monolingual. Mature children, whether bilingual or monolingual, exhibit superior development with age, thus facilitating more efficient use of learning mechanisms (Sun et al., 2021). Regarding gender, both bilingual and monolingual girls tend to be more proficient in speaking their native language because they spend more time interacting with their parents. Cognitive skills, particularly the ones related to memory and non-verbal intelligence, also affect the learning of vocabularies in children (Sun et al., 2016). Interestingly, these skills apply to both dual language and monolingual speakers.

Neither bilingual nor monolingual children are disadvantaged in acquiring vocabularies. Research has indicated that children’s language development gains more from conversations in which kids actively participate than from those in which they are only passive listeners (Ribot et al., 2018). Squires et al. (2020) noted that young bilingual and monolingual learners acquire vocabularies similarly. The same trend is observed in Lindren and Bohnacker (2020) who identified similarities in the acquisition of vocabularies among 46 bilingual Swedish-German children of age four to six growing in Sweden. Höhle et al. (2019) also observed that the acquisition of vocabularies in monolingual and bilingual children is comparable because the early language steps are controlled by similar mechanisms. At the same time, DeAnda et al. (2016) evaluated the vocabulary development of monolinguals and bilinguals among children and found that an equivalent word learning model fits the two groups. However, DeAnda et al. (2016) observed that bilinguals are affected by the interaction between the first and second language such that word learning is aided by knowledge of the translation equivalents in the non-target language. Nevertheless, this facilitation issue influences the order of word learning among both monolingual and bilingual children.

Both monolingual and bilingual children are affected similarly by their parents. In a research work by Limia et al. (2019), it was established that monolingual children recognize referents exceptionally in gestures before they do the same with words, and parents convert these gestures into known words. Children gain from the translations and acquire vocabularies or words their parents converted earlier than the ones not translated. The same research indicated that bilingual children can equally recognize referents exceptionally in gestures.

Children acquire similar vocabularies when exposed to the same learning environment. The only affected learners include the ones with primary language impairment. Shivabasappa et al. (2018) established that children with primary language impairment, both bilingual and monolingual, show deficits in vocabulary and morphosyntax. Accordingly, it is true to say that bilingualism or monolingualism has no effect on the number of vocabularies a child could acquire. At the same time, similar errors in omitting particular prepositions are observed in both monolingual and bilingual children with primary language impairment (Shivabasappa et al., 2018). Comparing this information with the research by Sun et al. (2020), it is arguable that children exposed to the same environment acquire vocabularies in a comparable fashion when other factors such as age, gender, and cognitive maturity are equal. Therefore, in children, vocabulary is hardly affected irrespective of being a monolingual or dual language speaker.


Armon-Lotem, S., Restrepo, M. A., Lipner, M., Ahituv-Shlomo, P., & Altman, C. (2021). Vocabulary gains in bilingual narrative intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 52(1), 436-448.

DeAnda, S., Poulin-Dubois, D., Zesiger, P., & Friend, M. (2016). Lexical processing and organization in bilingual first language acquisition: Guiding future research. Psychological Bulletin, 142(6), 655-667.

Hoff, E., Burridge, A., Ribot, K. M., & Giguere, D. (2017). Language specificity in the relation of maternal education to bilingual children’s vocabulary growth. Developmental Psychology, 54(6), 1011-1019.

Höhle, B., Bijeljac-Babic, R., & Nazzi, T. (2020). Variability and stability in early language acquisition: Comparing monolingual and bilingual infants’ speech perception and word recognition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 23(1), 56-71.

Lauro, J., Core, C., & Hoff, E. (2020). Explaining individual differences in trajectories of simultaneous bilingual development: Contributions of child and environmental factors. Child Development, 91(6), 2063-2082.

Limia, V., Özçalişkan, Ş., & Erika, H. O. F. F. (2019). Do parents provide a helping hand to vocabulary development in bilingual children? Journal of Child Language, 46(3), 501-521.

Lindgren, J., & Bohnacker, U. (2020). Vocabulary development in closely-related languages: Age, word type and cognate facilitation effects in bilingual Swedish-German preschool children. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 10(5), 587-622.

Ribot, K. M., Hoff, E., & Burridge, A. (2018). Language use contributes to expressive language growth: Evidence from bilingual children. Child Development, 89(3), 929-940.

Shivabasappa, P., Peña, E. D., & Bedore, L. M. (2018). Core vocabulary in the narratives of bilingual children with and without language impairment. International Journal of Speech-language Pathology, 20(7), 790-801.

Squires, L. R., Ohlfest, S. J., Santoro, K. E., & Roberts, J. L. (2020). Factors influencing cognate performance for young multilingual children’s vocabulary: A research synthesis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29(4), 2170-2188.

Sun, H., Ng, S. C., O’Brien, B. A., & Fritzsche, T. (2020). Child, family, and school factors in bilingual preschoolers’ vocabulary development in heritage languages. Journal of Child Language, 47(4), 817-843.

Volodina, A., Weinert, S., & Mursin, K. (2020). Development of academic vocabulary across primary school age: Differential growth and influential factors for German monolinguals and language minority learners. Developmental Psychology, 56(5), 922-936.

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