Project titleMonolingual and Bilingual Primary School Children’s Comprehension of Idiomatic Expressions

The development of pragmatic awareness is vital for the ability to communicate in everyday life. Children with observable pragmatic difficulties are less likely to perform well on tests of scholastic attainment in the areas of mathematics, reading, and spelling (Damico et al., 1983). The current study, thus, aims to develop a pragmatic language battery for primary school-aged children that can be administered by any trained individual in the classroom environment to identify pragmatic difficulties, not solely diagnosable disorders.

127 children at the end of Key Stage 1 (7–8-year-olds, n=65) and Key Stage 2 (10-11-year-olds, n=62) were tested on their idiom comprehension. Children were presented with the idiom both orthographically and auditorily and were asked to first rephrase/explain the idiom in their own words and then match the expression to a literal or figurative sentence with the same meaning. The children also completed standardized receptive and expressive language measures adapted from Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (Fourth Edition UK; Semel, Wiig & Secord, 2003) as well as a language exposure questionnaire (The Leeds-Bradford Language Exposure Questionnaire; Gunning & Klepousniotou, 2017).

Analyses revealed language experience to highly impact idiomatic knowledge. Not only did the type of answer given by a child in the open-ended component differ depending on their language experience classification (i.e., whether they were monolingual or bilingual) but linear effect models including a continuous measure of language experience fitted the data better than models only including a binary language classification. These models demonstrated that a child’s cumulative exposure to language directly contributed to their degree of idiomatic knowledge. This finding supports predictions that idiomatic knowledge is dependent on general exposure to language. Furthermore, these findings are also consistent with the abundance of literature suggesting that, due to bilinguals having to consistently distribute resources amongst their spoken languages, their vocabulary in each is likely to be hindered (Thordardottir, 2013; Uccelli & Páez, 2007), as is their understanding of figurative language (Fusté-Herrmann, 2008). Importantly, this is the first study to use a continuous score of bilingualism to predict this ability, supporting the notion that bilingualism is better conceptualised along a scale, rather than as a simple binary variable (e.g., Baum & Titone, 2014; Kašćelan et al., 2020; Serratrice & De Cat, 2020).

Primary contact nameEkaterini Klepousniotou
Primary contact emailEmail hidden; Javascript is required.
Primary contact mobile phone+97430239111
Other student team members
Student name Email Phone
Lydia Gunning
Students/participant(s) programs
  • Other (NPRP, Seed, etc.)
Faculty advisor(s)
Advisor name Email Affiliation
Ekaterini Klepousniotou Carnegie Mellon University (Qatar)
For CMU-Q advisor(s), please select their program(s)
  • Arts and Sciences