Home language and mono- and bilingual children’s emergent academic language : a longitudinal study of Dutch, Moroccan-Dutch, and Turkish-Dutch 3- to 6-year-old children

A.F. Scheele

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


In countries throughout the world, educational achievement of young bilingual immigrant children consistently falls behind. Aiming to increase understanding of the processes underlying these language disadvantages, the present 4-wave longitudinal study investigated the relationship between the home language environment and emergent academic language in mono- and bilingual 3- to 6-year-olds. In addition, the study focussed on cross-language associations between bilingual children’s first (L1) and second (L2) language skills. Studying immigrant children in this age range enabled examination of the transition from a home environment in which the first language is predominantly spoken to a school environment in which the second language, the language of the majority, is the standard. A total of 58 monolingual native Dutch, 47 bilingual Moroccan-Dutch, and 56 bilingual Turkish-Dutch children took part in the study. The Moroccan-Dutch children were all of Berber descent and spoke Tarifit as their L1; the Turkish-Dutch children spoke Turkish as their L1. Primary caregivers reported on their language and literacy activities as well as the languages used during these activities via a personal interview. Child assessments included a non-verbal intelligence test, a verbal short-term memory span task, and language tasks addressing a range of language skills that are considered important for school achievement: L1 and L2 standard vocabulary tests, narrative comprehension and production tasks, and a L2 morphosyntactic task. The results showed that despite equal domain general abilities for learning, Turkish-Dutch and Moroccan-Dutch 3- to 6-year-olds persistently scored below the Dutch monolinguals on L1 and Dutch language assessments. The main outcomes of this thesis reveal that these language arrears stem from limited early experiences with language specific literacy and oral language activities: language-specific input in the home environment explained variation in both L1 and L2 proficiency. In addition, findings indicated a positive cross-language transfer from L1 to L2, even when controlling for the effects of socioeconomic status, second language literacy input, and children’s verbal short-term memory skills. Furthermore, despite bilingual children’s generally lesser Dutch language proficiency, their Dutch language development did reveal a catch-up effect relative to the monolingual Dutch children. In contrast, the gap between the bilingual and monolingual’s L1 development increased further. The Turkish-Dutch children were least frequently exposed to L2, whereas the Moroccan-Dutch children received least L1 input. These inter-group differences in language input patterns were related to background characteristics, such as status of the minority language, and explained a substantial part of the differences in children’s language proficiency. Most of the Moroccan-Dutch children were unable to construct a narrative in their L1, whereas the Turkish-Dutch children did manage to do this. Interestingly, the Turkish-Dutch children seemed to have profited from their previously developed knowledge in their L1: their L2 narrative proficiency developed at the fastest pace and results indicated cross-linguistic transfer of their L1 narrative skills. In sum, results of our studies reveal two opposite mechanisms regarding bilingual language development: time spent on L1 takes away time on L2 but, if sufficiently supported, provides children with linguistic tools and semantic knowledge that support L2 acquisition
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Leseman, Paul, Primary supervisor
  • Elbers, Egmond, Supervisor
  • Mayo, A.Y., Co-supervisor
Award date11 Jun 2010
Print ISBNs978-90-393-5361-5
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2010

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