Bilingual Preschool Children’s Second-Language Vocabulary Development: The Role of First-language Vocabulary Skills and Second-language Talk Input

Grøver, V., Lawrence J. F., & Rydland, V.
International Journal of Bilingualism.


The purpose of this study is to examine whether 5-year-old children with varying first-language vocabulary skills benefit differently from second-language talk input in preschool. The authors investigate whether first-language vocabulary skills support second-language learning among young bilingual children in the process of developing bilingualism.


The statistical analyses suggest two main conclusions: First of all, children with more developed first-language vocabulary skills who were exposed to teacher-led talk and peer-play talk with a high density of tokens had more developed second-language vocabulary skills at age 5. The result thus reflects in part a correlation between first-language vocabulary skills and second-language vocabulary skills, and in part a correlation between second-language skills and talk activity which includes a large number of tokens.

Secondly, the analyses show that the effects above are not present for children who are exposed to group talk and play characterised by a high degree of diversity in tokens. The results indicate that the general amount of talk is most important in the early stages of second-language learning.

The author indicates a possible interaction between first language and second language. This means that bilingual children are thought to draw on a reservoir of skills, including previous experiences with using language and interpreting word meaning that support them in their second-language learning. The results indicate a possible transfer of language knowledge in which the second language is facilitated by the first language.


A total of 26 5-year-old bilingual children (15 boys and 11 girls) took part in a longitudinal study which followed the children from preschool to year 6 at school. All the children spoke Turkish as their first language and Norwegian as their second language, and came from 20 different public ECEC centres in two large cities. The children's first-language vocabulary was tested at the age of 5, whereas they were tested in their second language at the ages of 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 years. Second-language input at the ECEC centre was examined by calculating the number of word tokens and the diversity of word types in the video recordings of teacher-led group talk and in peer-play talk.


Grøver, V., Lawrence J. F., & Rydland, V. (2016). Bilingual Preschool Children’s Second-Language Vocabulary Development: The Role of First-language Vocabulary Skills and Second-language Talk Input. International Journal of Bilingualism. DOI: 10.1177/1367006916666389

Rydland, V., Grøver, V. & Lawrence, J. (2014). ”The Second-Language Vocabulary Trajectories of Turkish Immigrant Children in Norway from Ages Five to Ten: the Role of Preschool Talk exposure, maternal Education, and co-ethnic concentration in the neighborhood”. Journal of Child Language, 41(2), 352-381.

Financed by

The Research Council of Norway