What we found: Phase 1
Which questions are easier to answer?
In our research, bilingual children show a similar pattern to monolingual children, obtaining higher scores in internal inferences’ questions, i.e. questions that ask them to connect two parts of the given story, than global inferences’ questions, where they are asked to add their knowledge to the story to make sense of it.
Which skills best predict listening comprehension?
Many language abilities influence comprehension, for example vocabulary, how many words a child knows (vocabulary breadth), has been long established as important in determining children’s ability to understand a story. Knowing the meaning of specific words in a text is necessary to understand it. Knowing the association between words and their relationship, as well as having a deep understanding of what a word means, is also important (vocabulary depth) – see Background page.
Another ability that influence children’s comprehension is morpho-syntactic knowledge, defined as knowledge about word forms and sentence structures.
Our results at Phase 1 show that morpho-syntactic knowledge, vocabulary depth, and vocabulary breadth are the best predictors of children’s ability to make inferences to understand spoken texts. When it comes to vocabulary, how well children know the words, and the relationships between them, i.e. vocabulary depth, has an even bigger effect than the sheer number of words that they know, i.e. vocabulary breadth. How much English children had been exposed to over the course of their lives was only indirectly linked to listening comprehension. Amount of English input was directly linked to both aspects of vocabulary knowledge – breadth and depth – and to grammatical knowledge – morpho-syntax.
Bilingual children seem to apply similar inferential processes to monolingual children to make sense of spoken texts. A good knowledge of grammatical rules and a deep knowledge of words and their relationship both have a positive effect on text comprehension. Amount of English input plays a crucial role in determining how many words children know – and how well – and how much they know about the grammatical rules of the language. These are language skills that, in turn, are directly linked to their ability to make sense of a story.