How do bilingual children acquire Spanish morphemes?

We all know about Brown’s stages of morphosyntax development for English-speaking children, but what do you know about grammatical morpheme acquisition in bilingual children? Because it’s important that we compare bilinguals’ language skills to those of other bilinguals, this paper provides preliminary evidence for the relative difficulty of Spanish morpheme acquisition for typically developing Spanish–English speaking children.

The authors grouped the Spanish morphemes* into three sets (shown below) from least difficult to most difficult. Typically developing Spanish–English bilingual children, ages 4 to 7.5, generally acquired these morpheme sets in the same order, regardless of whether Spanish or English was their dominant language. In other words, there were similarities for all bilingual children in the study as to which morphemes were easier and which were more difficult for them to acquire.

Set 1 ● Imperfect● Plural %2Fs%2F● Singular articles● Conjunctions Set 2● Plural articles● Preterite Set 3● Prepositions● Direct object clitics● Subjunctives.png

The children used the morphemes in Set 1 most accurately. Spanish-dominant children mastered Set 2 at an MLUw of 7.00–7.99, but English-dominant children in the study did not reach that same level of accuracy. Neither group fully acquired Set 3 morphemes by age 7.5.

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It’s important to note that this study established norms based on elicitation and sentence repetition tasks, rather than spontaneous language samples; however, MLUw data from the children’s narrative samples were used to calculate the morpheme accuracies reported in the paper.

The authors remind us that MLUw is a better predictor of Spanish grammatical morpheme accuracy than age, which is similar to what we know about morpheme acquisition in monolingual English children. Since more research is needed in this area, we ultimately need to continue to assess bilingual children in both languages and consider the child’s dominant language. We must assess both MLUw and grammatical morpheme use, comparing that data with appropriate developmental norms, to provide a comprehensive summary of the child’s morphosyntactic skills.

*If you need a refresher on Spanish morphemes, check out the “Morphosyntactic Development in Monolingual Spanish” section here.

 

Baron, A., Bedore, L. M., Peña, E. D., Lovgren-Uribe, S. D., López, A. A., & Villagran, E. (2018). Production of Spanish Grammatical Forms in U.S. Bilingual Children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0074