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Phonetic discrimination, phonological awareness, and pre-literacy skills in Spanish–English dual language preschoolers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2021

Sara A. SMITH*
University of South Florida, USA
Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA
Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA
Gigi LUK
McGill University, Canada
Corresponding author: Sara A. Smith University of South Florida, College of Education.


The current study explores variation in phonemic representation among Spanish–English dual language learners (DLLs, n = 60) who were dominant in English or in Spanish. Children were given a phonetic discrimination task with speech sounds that: 1) occur in English and Spanish, 2) are exclusive to English, and 3) are exclusive to Russian, during Fall (age m = 57 months) and Spring (age m = 62 months, n = 42). In Fall, English-dominant DLLs discriminated more accurately than Spanish-dominant DLLs between English-Spanish phones and English-exclusive phones. Both groups discriminated Russian phones at or close to chance. In Spring, however, groups no longer differed in discriminating English-exclusive phones and both groups discriminated Russian phones above chance. Additionally, joint English-Spanish and English-exclusive phonetic discrimination predicted children's phonological awareness in both groups. Results demonstrate plasticity in early childhood through diverse language exposure and suggest that phonemic representation begins to emerge driven by lexical restructuring.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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