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The potential of sentence imitation tasks for assessment of language abilities in sequential bilingual children

Chiat, S., Armon-Lotem, S., Marinis, T. , Polišenská, K. ORCID: 0000-0001-7405-6689, Roy, P. & Seeff-Gabriel, B. (2013). The potential of sentence imitation tasks for assessment of language abilities in sequential bilingual children. In: Mueller-Gathercole, V. (Ed.), Issues in the Assessment of Bilinguals. (pp. 56-89). UK: Mulitlingual Matters.


Sentence repetition tasks are increasingly recognised as a useful clinical tool for diagnosing language impairment in children. They are quick to administer, can be carefully targeted to elicit specific sentence structures, and are particularly informative about children’s lexical and morphosyntactic knowledge. This chapter exlores the theoretical potential of sentence repetition for assessment of sequential bilingual children, and presents three studies comparing performance of sequential bilingual children with monolingual children’s performance on standardised sentence repetition tests in Hebrew (children with L1 Russian, age 5-7 years, and L1 English, age 4½-6½ years), German (children with L1 Russian, age 4-7 years) and English (children with L1 Turkish, age 6-9 years). Results differed across studies: distribution of children in the Hebrew studies was in line with monolingual norms, while the majority of children in the English-Turkish study scored in a range that would be deemed impaired for monolingual children, and performance in the German-Russian study fell between these extremes. Analyses of performance within studies revealed similar discrepancies in effects of children’s exposure to L2, with significant effects of Age of Onset in the Hebrew-Russian and Hebrew-English groups and some indication of Length of Exposure effects, but no effects of either factor in the English-Turkish group. Multiple differences between these studies preclude direct inferences about the reasons for these different results: studies differed in content, methods and scoring of sentence repetition tests, and in ages, languages, language exposure, and socioeconomic status of participants. It is possible that socioeconomic differences are associated with differences in language experience that are equally or more important than onset and length of exposure. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that sentence repetition provides a measure of children’s proficiency in their L2, but that the use of sentence repetition in clinical assessment requires caution unless norms are available for the child’s bilingual community. As a next step, it is proposed that sentence repetition tests using early-acquired vocabulary and targeting aspects of sentence structure known to be difficult for monolingual children with language impairments should be developed in different target languages. This will allow us to explore further the factors that influence attainment of basic morphosyntax in sequential bilingual children, and the point at which sentence repetition, as a measure of morphosyntax, can help to identify children requiring clinical intervention.

Publication Type: Book Section
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
[thumbnail of Chiat et al in Gathercole volume almost final 2012.pdf]
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