Language Development and Disorders (LDD): research projects

Research studies

Referential communication and executive function skills in bilingual children


This project is in collaboration with Dr Cecile De Cat from the University of Leeds. The aim of the project is to improve our understanding about the developmental differences between monolingual and bilingual children, on the basis of experimental research.

Previous research has shown that bilingual children perform better than comparable monolinguals on certain cognitive tasks requiring control of attention. This bilingual advantage may possibly be attributed to their experience of managing several languages on a daily basis, which is an excellent practice for setting attention priorities. Another line of research has shown that attention control abilities predict referential communication abilities in monolingual children: those who are better at attention control are also better at taking their interlocutor’s perspective into account (and this determines the choice of referential expressions, such as “he” or “the boy”).

We aim to bring together these two lines of research, by investigating the links between cognitive development, bilingualism, and referential abilities.  In particular, we want to explore these links in bilingual children with uneven exposure to their two languages (as this is a group that has not been studied sufficiently).

Significance of the project

In England, 15.2% of the primary school population has a mother tongue other than English. Yet, in an increasingly multicultural UK society we still know very little about the linguistic and cognitive skills of children growing up with more than one language.

Our work will provide new evidence on the linguistic and cognitive profiles of bilingual children in a typical multilingual classroom in the UK and raise awareness about the impact of different types of bilingual environments. More specifically, we will provide the evidence needed to develop a better understanding of the abilities of heritage children, which form a growing part of the school population.

Duration of the project

Ocotber 2012-September 2014

Funding body

The Leverhulme Trust

Members of the project

C├ęcile De CatPrincipal investigator
Dr Ludovica SerratriceCo-investigator
Sanne BerendsResearch associate