Influences of Bilingualism and Developmental Language Disorder on How Children Learn and Process Words

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Previous studies found that bilingual children and adults with typical language development (TLD) perform better than monolinguals in novel word learning, but show lower scores on lexical retrieval tasks (e.g., naming known words). Children with developmental language disorder (DLD) lack in their abilities in both tasks compared with children with TLD. The current study tested the interplay between bilingualism and language disorder during novel word learning and lexical retrieval. Preschoolers (N = 101; 50 boys and 51 girls; mothers’ mean years of education = 16.35) in four groups (Hebrew monolinguals or Russian-Hebrew bilinguals with DLD or TLD) learned 12 novel real words (6 with a familiar referent and 6 with a novel referent) and performed a lexical retrieval task. Children exhibited significant learning with no effect of bilingualism, but a negative effect of language disorder. Thus, children with DLD performed worse than children with TLD, and this ability was not affected by bilingualism. In lexical retrieval, DLD groups scored lower than TLD groups, and critically also bilinguals scored lower than monolinguals. This differential effect of bilingualism in the two tasks suggests that bilingualism does not impede language learning mechanisms even among children with DLD. Instead, the findings suggest that lower performance in the lexical retrieval task is due to decreased frequency of exposure. By exploring both word learning and lexical retrieval, the study highlights the differential mechanisms at play in the effects of bilingualism and language disorder on the developing lexicon.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partly supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 1068/16 to Rama Novogrodsky). The study’s protocol was approved by the relevant Ethics Committee of the University of Haifa. The study was not preregistered. Study materials are available upon request. We thank Esthi Goralnik for kindly sharing relevant test materials, as well asMiri Goldberg and Atara ShaniMor for assistance in data coding.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Psychological Association


  • Bilingualism
  • Developmental language disorder
  • Lexical retrieval
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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