Why a Spanish word list won’t necessarily work for all Spanish speakers


Gonzalez & Nelson remind us of the need to consider the cultural background of Spanish–English bilingual infants when administering the MacArthur Inventario del Desarrollo de Habilidades Comunicativas: Primeras Palabras y Gestos (IDHC), also known as the Spanish form CDI. The IDHC was originally created and normed using a monolingual Mexican sample from Southern California and Mexico. But Spanish isn’t exactly the same across all Spanish-speaking countries. As result, many of the words on the IDHC reflect Mexican Spanish and may be unknown or uncommon to children from other Latinx communities. While there are adaptations of the IDHC for use with Cuban, Chilean, and Columbian children, this still doesn’t represent the cultural–linguistic diversity we’ll see, especially when many Latinx children come from mixed-nationality homes.

The authors of this study administered the Mexican-normed IDHC to 27 Spanish–English bilingual infants of mixed Latinx backgrounds. The Spanish vocabulary scores for the infants of mixed Latinx backgrounds were significantly lower than the scores of the Mexican norming sample. Further analysis revealed that the parents of mixed Latinx backgrounds reported significantly lower comprehension for a subset of 16 words on the IDHC. It turns out these words were often described by parents as words they themselves didn’t know or words they didn’t commonly use at home. This highlights a potential issue with roughly 4% of the 428 words on the IDHC. When these words were removed, the bilingual mixed Lantinx group continued to have lower scores than the monolingual Mexican group, but the difference in scores was no longer significant. You can check out a complete list of the unknown/uncommon IDHC words in Appendix A.

Unfortunately, we don’t have updated and more inclusive norms for the IDHC to account for these unfamiliar words yet. BUT there is a silver lining here. Using a total vocabulary score (i.e., Spanish IDHC + English CDI) closed the gap between the mixed Latinx and Mexican groups. *Does happy dance* Even with the potentially problematic words on the IDHC, the impact appears to be minimized when both Spanish and English results are combined. This finding reiterates the importance of assessing bilingual children in both languages to get a more complete picture of overall language development.


Gonzalez, S.L., & Nelson, E.L. (2018). Measuring Spanish comprehension in infants from mixed hispanic communities using the IDHC: A preliminary study on 16-month-olds. Behavioral Sciences. Advance online publication. doi: 10.3390/bs8120117