No AccessLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in SchoolsResearch Article1 Jul 2008

English Speech Sound Development in Preschool-Aged Children From Bilingual English–Spanish Environments


    English speech acquisition by typically developing 3- to 4-year-old children with monolingual English was compared to English speech acquisition by typically developing 3- to 4-year-old children with bilingual English–Spanish backgrounds. We predicted that exposure to Spanish would not affect the English phonetic inventory but would increase error frequency and type in bilingual children.


    Single-word speech samples were collected from 33 children. Phonetically transcribed samples for the 3 groups (monolingual English children, English–Spanish bilingual children who were predominantly exposed to English, and English–Spanish bilingual children with relatively equal exposure to English and Spanish) were compared at 2 time points and for change over time for phonetic inventory, phoneme accuracy, and error pattern frequencies.


    Children demonstrated similar phonetic inventories. Some bilingual children produced Spanish phonemes in their English and produced few consonant cluster sequences. Bilingual children with relatively equal exposure to English and Spanish averaged more errors than did bilingual children who were predominantly exposed to English. Both bilingual groups showed higher error rates than English-only children overall, particularly for syllable-level error patterns. All language groups decreased in some error patterns, although the ones that decreased were not always the same across language groups. Some group differences of error patterns and accuracy were significant. Vowel error rates did not differ by language group.


    Exposure to English and Spanish may result in a higher English error rate in typically developing bilinguals, including the application of Spanish phonological properties to English. Slightly higher error rates are likely typical for bilingual preschool-aged children. Change over time at these time points for all 3 groups was similar, suggesting that all will reach an adult-like system in English with exposure and practice.


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