Language exposure and online processing efficiency in bilingual development

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This chapter summarizes what we know so far about the development of online processing skill in young bilingual children, with a focus on the relation between individual differences in language exposure and processing skill. We discuss evidence from studies with Spanish-English bilingual children in California, showing clear contingencies between language exposure and both vocabulary size and online processing efficiency as measured in the looking-while-listening (LWL) procedure. However, the strength of these contingencies is critically affected by whether the constructs are operationalized in relative or absolute terms. While <i>relative</i> amount of language exposure is only weakly related to <i>absolute</i> processing speed, we find a more solid association when both exposure and outcome are cast in relative terms. Finally, we consider the advantages, as well as the challenges, of using absolute measures for both language exposure and outcome measures. Our ongoing studies explore ways to capture variation in the absolute amount of talk that young bilinguals hear from their caregivers, presenting preliminary evidence that variation in caregiver engagement is critical for language outcomes in bilingual children, as many earlier studies have shown for monolinguals.


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