Word learning in 14-month-old monolinguals and bilinguals: Challenges and methodological opportunities
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Description: Infants can learn words in their daily interactions early in life, and many studies have demonstrated that they can also learn words from brief in-lab exposures. While most studies have included monolingual infants, less is known about bilingual infants’ word learning and the role that language familiarity plays in this ability. In this study we examined word learning in a large sample (up to N = 148) of bilingual and monolingual 14-month-olds using a preferential looking paradigm. To support word learning, novel words were presented within sentence frames in one language (single-language condition) or two lan-guages (dual-language condition). We predicted that infants would exhibit greater word–object learning when they were more familiar with the language of the sentence frame. Using both traditional (t-tests) and updated (linear mixed-effects models) analyses, we found limited evidence for successful word learning. Familiarity had little effect on word learning, and in two conditions where it did have an effect, this was in the opposite direction as predicted. Our results suggest that word learning in experimental settings can be challenging for 14-month-olds, even when sentence frames are provided. We discuss these results in relation to prior work and suggest how open science practices can contribute to more reliable findings about early word learning.