Semantic deficits in spanish-english bilingual children with language impairment

Li Sheng, Elizabeth D. Peña, Lisa M. Bedore, Christine E. Fiestas

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To examine the nature and extent of semantic deficits in bilingual children with language impairment (LI). Method: Thirty-seven Spanish-English bilingual children with LI (ranging from age 7;0 [years;months] to 9;10) and 37 typically developing (TD) age-matched peers generated 3 associations to 12 pairs of translation equivalents in English and Spanish. Responses were coded as paradigmatic (e.g., dinner-lunch, cena- desayuno [dinner-breakfast]), syntagmatic (e.g., delicious-pizza, delicioso-frijoles [delicious-beans]), and errors (e.g., wearing- where, vestirse-mal [to get dressed-bad]). Asemantic depth score was derived in each language and conceptually by combining children's performance in both languages. Results: The LI group achieved significantly lower semantic depth scores than the TD group after controlling for group differences in vocabulary size. Children showed higher conceptual scores than single-language scores. Both groups showed decreases in semantic depth scores across multiple elicitations. Analyses of individual performances indicated that semantic deficits (1 SD below the TD mean semantic depth score) were manifested in 65% of the children with LI and in 14% of the TD children. Conclusion: School-age bilingual children with and without LI demonstrated spreading activation of semantic networks. Consistent with the literature on monolingual children with LI, sparsely linked semantic networks characterize a considerable proportion of bilingual children with LI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Bilingual
  • Language impairment
  • Semantic network
  • Spanish-english
  • Spreading activation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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