Lexical Development in Bilingual French/ Portuguese Speaking Toddlers

Vocabulary Size and Language Dominance


  • Sophie Kern CNRS/University of Lyon2, France
  • Daniela Valente Université Lyon2
  • Christophe dos Santos Université de Tours




Language development, Bilingualism, Lexicon, French, Portuguese, Toddlers


In this study, we explore if French-European Portuguese (EP)-speaking bilingual toddlers produce the same number of words as their monolingual peers, in French, in EP, or in both languages. Furthermore, we explore the link between language dominance and lexicon size. We tested 53 bilingual French-EP children, among which 16 were 16–18 months old, 16 were 24–25 months old and 21 were 30–35 months old. The parents completed the French and the EP Communicative Development Inventory (adaptations of MacArthur–Bates CDI [Fenson et al., 2007]), the PaBiQ (Tuller, 2015) to evaluate language dominance and the ASQ-3 (Squires et al., 2009) to assess their developmental stages. The total vocabulary (both language combined, TV?F+EP), the total vocabulary (TV) in each language (TV?EP and TV?F) and the conceptual vocabulary (CV) were calculated. These vocabulary measures were compared with the monolingual norms in French and EP. The results showed that almost all participants had the same performance in vocabulary acquisition as their monolingual peers in French and EP, measured through the CDI in each language respectively. Their TV?F+EP and CV exceeded the vocabulary of monolinguals and language dominance was correlated with vocabulary size.


Allman, B. (2005). Vocabulary size and accuracy of monolingual and bilingual preschool children. In Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism (Vol. 5, pp. 58-77). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Almeida, L., Ferré, S., Morin, E., Prévost, P., dos Santos, C., Tuller, L., Zebib, R., & Barthez, M. A. (2017). Identification of bilingual children with Specific Language Impairment in France. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 7(3), 331-358. doi:10.1075/lab.15019.alm

Beauchemin, C., Hamel, C., & Simon, P. (2016). Trajectoires et origines: enquête sur la diversité des populations en France. Paris, France: Ined éditions.

Bleses, D., Vach, W., Slott, M., Wehberg, S., Thomsen, P., Madsen, T. O., & Basbøll, H. (2008). Early vocabulary development in Danish and other languages: A CDI-based comparison. Journal of child language, 35(3), 619-650. doi:10.1017/S0305000908008714

Cattani, A., Abbot‐Smith, K., Farag, R., Krott, A., Arreckx, F., Dennis, I., & Floccia, C. (2014). How much exposure to English is necessary for a bilingual toddler to perform like a monolingual peer in language tests?. International journal of language & communication disorders, 49(6), 649-671. doi:10.1111/1460-6984.12082

Core, C., Hoff, E., Rumiche, R., & Señor, M. (2013). Total and conceptual vocabulary in Spanish–English bilinguals from 22 to 30 months: implications for assessment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56(5), 1637-1649. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2013/11-0044)

de Houwer, A. (1990). The acquisition of two languages from birth: a case study. Cambridge: C.U.P.

de Houwer, A. (1995). Bilingual language acquisition. In P. Fletcher & B. MacWhinney (Eds.), The handbook of child language (pp. 219-250). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

de Houwer, A. (2010). Assessing lexical development in bilingual first language acquisition: What can we learn from monolingual norms? In M. Cruz-Ferreira (Eds), Multilingual norms (pp. 279–322). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

de Houwer, A., Bornstein, M. H., & Putnick, D. L. (2014). A bilingual–monolingual comparison of young children's vocabulary size: Evidence from comprehension and production. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35(6), 1189-1211. doi: 10.1017/S0142716412000744

Eurobarometer (2012). European and their languages. Special Eurobarometer 386. Brussels: EU Directorate-General for Communication. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/archives/ebs/ebs_386_en.pdf

Fenson, L., V. A. Marchman, D. J. Thal, P. S. Dale, J. S Reznick, & Bates, E. (2007). The MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Gathercole, V. C. M., Mon Thomas, E., & Hughes, E. (2008). Designing a normed receptive vocabulary test for bilingual populations: A model from Welsh. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 11(6), 678-720. doi:10.1080/13670050802149283.

Genesee, F. (2003). Rethinking bilingual acquisition. In J.M. deWaele (Ed.) Bilingualism: Challenges and directions for future research (pp. 158-182). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Genesee, F., & Nicoladis, E. (2006). Bilingual acquisition. In E. Hoff & M. Shatz (eds.), Handbook of Language Development, Oxford, Eng.: Blackwell.

Genesee, F., Nicoladis, E., & Paradis, J. (1995). Language differentiation in early bilingual development. Journal of child language, 22(3), 611-631. doi: 10.1017/S0305000900009971

Junker, D. A., & Stockman, I. J. (2002). Expressive Vocabulary of German-English Bilingual Toddlers. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(4), 381–394. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2002/042)

Kern, S., & Gayraud, F. (2010). IFDC. Grenoble, France: Les éditions La Cigale.

Kessler, C. (1984). Language acquisition in bilingual children. In Bilingualism and language disability (pp. 26-54). Springer, Boston, MA.

Lopes, S., Graça, P., Teixeira, S., Serrano, A. M., & Squires, J. (2015). Psychometric properties and validation of Portuguese version of Ages & Stages Questionnaires: 9, 18 and 30 Questionnaires. Early human development, 91(9), 527-533. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2015.06.006

McGregor, K. K., Newman, R. M., Reilly, R. M., & Capone, N. C. (2002). Semantic representation and naming in children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45(5), 998-1014. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2002/026)

Meisel, J. M. (Ed.). (1994). Bilingual first language acquisition: French and German grammatical development (Vol. 7). John Benjamins Publishing.

Nicoladis, E. (2001). Finding first words in the input. In J. Cenoz & F. Genesee (Eds.), Trends in Bilingual Acquisition (pp. 131-147). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Niklas-Salminen A. (2011). Le bilinguisme chez l’enfant. Étude de cas de bilinguisme précoce simultané français-finnois. Publications de l’Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence.

O’Toole, C., Gatt, D., Hickey, T. M., Miękisz, A., Haman, E., Armon-Lotem, S., Rinker, T., Ohana, O., dos Santos, C., & Kern, S. (2016). Parent report of early lexical production in bilingual children: a cross-linguistic CDI comparison. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 20(2), 124-145. doi:10.1080/13670050.2016.1179258

Patterson, J. L. & Pearson, B. Z. (2004). Bilingual lexical development: Influences, contexts, and processes. In B. A. Goldstein (Ed.), Bilingual language development and disorders in Spanish-English speakers (pp. 77-104). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Pearson, B. Z., Fernández, S. C., & Oller, D. K. (1993). Lexical development in bilingual infants and toddlers: Comparison to monolingual norms. Language learning, 43(1), 93-120. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1993.tb00174.x

Petitto, L. A., & Kovelman, I. (2003). The bilingual paradox: How signing-speaking bilingual children help us to resolve it and teach us about the brain’s mechanisms underlying all language acquisition. Learning Languages, 8(3), 5-18.

Place, S., & Hoff, E. (2011). Properties of dual language exposure that influence 2‐year‐olds’ bilingual proficiency. Child development, 82(6), 1834-1849. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01660.x

Squires, J., & Bricker, D. (2016). Ages & Stages Questionnaires® in French, Third Edition (ASQ-3™ French) (Questionnaires sur les étapes du développement, troisième édition [ASQ-3™ en français]). Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing Co.

Squires, J., Twombly, E., Bricker, D., Potter, L. (2009). ASQ-3 user's guide. Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing Co.

Thordardottir, E., Rothenberg, A., Rivard, M. E., & Naves, R. (2006). Bilingual assessment: Can overall proficiency be estimated from separate measurement of two languages? Journal of Multilingual Communication Disorders, 4(1), 1-21. doi:10.1080/14769670500215647

Tuller, L. (2015). Clinical Use of Parental Questionnaires in Multilingual Contexts. In S. Armon-Lotem, J. De Jong, & N. Meir (Eds), Assessing Multilingual Children: Disentangling Bilingualism from Language Impairment (pp. 301–330). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Viana, F., Cadime, I., Silva, C., Santos, A. L., Ribeiro, I., Santos, S., Lima, R., Costa, J., Acosta, V., Meira, A., Santos, A. S., Lucas, I., & Monteiro, J. (2017). Inventários de Desenvolvimento Comunicativo de MacArthur-Bates. Manual Técnico. Maia: Lusoinfo Multimédia.



How to Cite

Kern, Sophie, Daniela Valente, and Christophe dos Santos. 2019. “Lexical Development in Bilingual French/ Portuguese Speaking Toddlers: Vocabulary Size and Language Dominance”. Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 1 (2):206–224. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmbs.v1i2.11880.