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Mandarin-English bilingual vocabulary development in an English-immersion preschool: How does it compare with monolingual development?

Aims and objectives: A common phenomenon in many Asian countries is parents enrolling their preschoolers in bilingual or English-immersion programs to provide a head start in learning English. A frequently raised concern is that learning English too early can hamper children's language development. This study examined the receptive and expressive vocabularies of children in an English-immersion preschool in Taiwan and compared their receptive and expressive vocabulary skills to those of their monolingual peers. Methodology: Mandarin receptive and expressive vocabulary tests were individually administered to 25 bilingual Mandarin-English-speaking and 24 monolingual Mandarin-speaking 5-year-olds, while standardized English receptive and expressive vocabulary tests were given to the bilinguals only. Data analysis: Multivariate analysis of variance and one-sample t-tests were performed to determine whether the bilinguals showed a gap in the development of receptive and expressive vocabulary compared to Mandarin monolingual peers or to English monolingual norms. Follow-up analyses were further conducted to determine differences between the bilingual and monolingual groups on specific vocabulary items. Findings and conclusions: Findings corroborate previous studies that show relatively smaller receptive and expressive vocabularies in bilinguals' L1 and L2. Follow-up analyses further suggest the circumstance-specific and distributed nature of bilingual vocabulary. Possible explanations proposed in the literature and the present study provide an insight into the nature of bilingual vocabulary development. Originality and implications: The present study provides a preliminary understanding of Mandarin-English vocabulary development in a group of bilingual preschoolers learning English in an English-as-a-foreign language-immersion program, a less-studied context. Insight into the nature of bilingual vocabulary development in different contexts should enable concerned parents and language educators to provide language-rich home and school environments, with exposure to a variety of words and support for learning translation equivalents. (author abstract)
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