The assessment of language maintenance in bilingual children
Keywords:Heritage Language Acquisiotion, First Language Maintenance, Early Sequential Bilinguals, Language Dominance, Language Access
This study investigates potential shifts in relative language dominance in early sequential bilinguals across the primary school years. The subjects are thirty-eight Polish-English speaking children. A new test, the Child HALA (Dubiel & Guilfoyle, 2017), is introduced, which measures shifts in relative language strength by comparing lexical accuracy and response time between two languages. This test has been designed specifically for use with children, and is based on the HALA psycholinguistic tool (O’Grady, Schafer et al., 2009). The aim of this study is twofold. The first goal is to evaluate shifts in the relative language strength in both languages by examining changes in lexical accuracy and response time (RT). The focus is on the impact of word frequency on lexical accuracy and access, and the link between the frequency of language use and its relative strength and maintenance in bilinguals. The second aim is to examine the CHILD HALA’s suitability, reliability and applicability in research on language acquisition and maintenance in young bilinguals. In particular, the objective is to evaluate whether the test will show a pattern of shifts in language strength comparable to the outcomes of previous research. The results show that the children’s relative language dominance shifts from the initially stronger L1 Polish to the more dominant L2 English between the age of eight and eleven. The Child HALA test discovers reliable results across age groups and languages when compared with other studies that investigated lexical accuracy and access (Kohnert, Bates & Hernandez, 1999; Jia, Kohnert, Collado & Aquino-Garcia, 2006), and therefore may be considered as a reliable method in assessing language strength and maintenance in children. The results also support the earlier finding by O’Grady et al. (2009) and Tang (2011) of the response time measure being more sensitive and precise in the assessment of language strength than lexical accuracy alone. This study contributes to the broader field of bilingual language acquisition, and the Child HALA may be considered as a reliable method in assessing language strength and maintenance in young children.