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Biling (Camb Engl). 2012 Jan 1;15(1):102-116.

The receptive-expressive gap in the vocabulary of young second-language learners: Robustness and possible mechanisms.

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School of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, The University of Memphis.


Adults and children learning a second language show difficulty accessing expressive vocabulary that appears accessible receptively in their first language (L1). We call this discrepancy the receptive-expressive gap. Kindergarten Spanish (L1) - English (L2) sequential bilinguals were given standardized tests of receptive and expressive vocabulary in both Spanish and English. We found a small receptive-expressive gap in English but a large receptive-expressive gap in Spanish. We categorized children as having had high or low levels of English exposure based on demographic variables and found that the receptive-expressive gap persisted across both levels of English exposure. Regression analyses revealed that variables predicting both receptive and expressive vocabulary scores failed to predict the receptive-expressive gap. The results suggest that the onset of the receptive-expressive gap in L1 must have been abrupt. We discuss possible mechanisms underlying the phenomenon.

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