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Front Psychol. 2012 May 25;3:155. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00155. eCollection 2012.

Bilingual and monolingual children attend to different cues when learning new words.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, CO, USA.


The way in which children learn language can vary depending on their language environment. Previous work suggests that bilingual children may be more sensitive to pragmatic cues from a speaker when learning new words than monolingual children are. On the other hand, monolingual children may rely more heavily on object properties than bilingual children do. In this study we manipulate these two sources of information within the same paradigm, using eye gaze as a pragmatic cue and similarity along different dimensions as an object cue. In the crucial condition, object and pragmatic cues were inconsistent with each other. Our results showed that in this ambiguous condition monolingual children attend more to object property cues whereas bilingual children attend more to pragmatic cues. Control conditions showed that monolingual children were sensitive to eye gaze and bilingual children were sensitive to similarity by shape; it was only when the cues were inconsistent that children's preference for one or the other cue was apparent. Our results suggest that children learn to weigh different cues depending on their relative informativeness in their environment.


bilingualism; language development; word learning

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