Lexical development in Russian-Mandarin bilingual children
The number of languages spoken throughout the world is estimated to be approximately 6000 (Grimes, 1992). Undoubtedly, vocabulary plays an important role in language and literacy development. However, little is known about vocabulary development in bilingual children who need to learn an official Mandarin language, in addition to a minority Russian language which is spoken at home. The purpose of this study was to examine the receptive and expressive vocabulary development of Russian-Mandarin bilingual children living in Taiwan. Two age groups of bilingual children (i.e., 3–5-year-olds, 6–7-year-olds) participated in the current study. Parallel bilingual vocabulary tests were developed, which included Picture Identification test and Picture Naming test to assess the receptive and expressive vocabularies in both languages. In addition to the vocabulary scores in each language, receptive and expressive composite scores were also calculated by summing all correctly named items in the two languages and then counting translational equivalents only once. Analyses included between-group comparisons of vocabulary scores between the two age groups by MANOVA as well as within-subject comparisons of Russian versus Mandarin vocabulary and receptive versus expressive vocabulary scores by paired-sample t tests. The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was computed to assess the association among vocabulary scores, environmental factors, and parent-rated language proficiency. Results revealed different profiles between the two age groups, within-subject across languages and modalities for younger and older participants. All bilingual children had larger receptive vocabulary than expressive vocabulary regardless of age and language. Significant and positive correlation was found between Russian and Mandarin vocabularies suggested that children who had higher Russian vocabulary skills also had higher vocabularies skills in Mandarin. The major implication of this finding is that acquiring the vocabulary in the minority language (e.g., Russian in Taiwan) is not at the expense of developing the vocabulary in the majority language (e.g., Mandarin in Taiwan) and vice versa. Parents who speak the minority languages should not refrain from speaking their native languages because of the concern and the common assumption about negative and subtractive bilingualism. Learning through a mother tongue in minority language does not limit a child’s capacity to develop skills in a second or majority language. Research demonstrated that maintaining first language abilities and enhancing them through the vocabulary development in minority language actually leaded to better academic outcomes not only in L1 (Palmer, Chackelford, Miller & Leclere, 2007), but also to better outcomes in second language education ( Lindholm-Leary & Borsato, 2006).
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