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Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2009

Ellen Bialystok*
York University, Rotman Research Institute of Baycrest
Gigi Luk
Rotman Research Institute of Baycrest
Kathleen F. Peets
York University
Sujin YANG
York University, Tyndale University College
Address for correspondence: Ellen Bialystok, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3,


Studies often report that bilingual participants possess a smaller vocabulary in the language of testing than monolinguals, especially in research with children. However, each study is based on a small sample so it is difficult to determine whether the vocabulary difference is due to sampling error. We report the results of an analysis of 1,738 children between 3 and 10 years old and demonstrate a consistent difference in receptive vocabulary between the two groups. Two preliminary analyses suggest that this difference does not change with different language pairs and is largely confined to words relevant to a home context rather than a school context.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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This work was partially supported by grant R01HD052523 from the US National Institutes of Health and by grant A2559 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to the first author. We thank Jessica Cheung and Michael Bonares for their assistance in data compilation.


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