Attention in bilingual children with developmental language disorder

Kerry Danahy Ebert, Diane Rak, Caitlyn M. Slawny, Louis Fogg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Purpose: Attention and language are hypothesized to interact in bilingual children and in children with developmental language disorder (DLD). In children who are bilingual, attentional control may be enhanced by repeated experience regulating 2 languages. In children with DLD, subtle weaknesses in sustained attention may relate to impaired language processing. This study measured attentional control and sustained attention in monolingual and bilingual children with and without DLD in order to examine the potential influences of bilingualism and DLD, as well as their intersection, on attention. Method: Monolingual English-only and bilingual Spanish- English children aged 6-8 years were categorized into participant groups based on eligibility testing and parent interviews. Parent interviews included standardized assessment of language environment and parent concern regarding language. Participants completed 2 nonlinguistic computerized assessments: a flanker task to measure attentional control and a continuous performance task to measure sustained attention. Results: One hundred nine children met all eligibility criteria for inclusion in a participant group. Regression models predicting performance on the attention tasks were similar for both sustained attention and attentional control. For both tasks, DLD was a significant predictor, and bilingualism was not. Measuring bilingualism continuously using parentreported exposure did not alter results. Conclusions: This study found no evidence of a “bilingual cognitive advantage” on 2 types of attention among sequential Spanish-English bilingual children but also found a negative effect of DLD that was consistent across both types of attention and both bilingual and monolingual children. Results are consistent with the broader literature on subtle nonlinguistic deficits in children with DLD and suggest these deficits are minimally affected by diverse linguistic experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)979-992
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by National Institutes of Health Grant R03 DC013760, awarded to K. Ebert. We are grateful to Klaudia Bednarczyk, Kathryn Ficho, Elizabeth Jenkins, Alejandra Navarro,

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. All rights reserved.


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