Patterns of Language Switching and Bilingual Children’s Word Learning: An Experiment Across Two Communities

Rachel Ka Ying Tsui, Jessica E. Kosie, Laia Fibla, Casey Lew-Williams, Krista Byers-Heinlein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Language switching is common in bilingual environments, including those of many bilingual children. Some bilingual children hear rapid switching that involves immediate translation of words (an “immediate-translation” pattern), while others hear their languages most often in long blocks of a single language (a “one-language-at-a-time” pattern). Our two-site experimental study compared two groups of developing bilinguals from different communities, and investigated whether differences in the timing of language switching impose different demands on bilingual children’s learning of novel nouns in their two languages: do children learn differently if they hear a translation immediately versus if they hear translations more separated in time? Using an at-home online tablet word learning task, data were collected asynchronously from 3- to 5-year-old bilinguals from French–English bilingual families in Montreal, Canada (N = 31) and Spanish–English bilingual families in New Jersey, USA (N = 22). Results showed that bilingual children in both communities readily learned new words, and their performance was similar across the immediate-translation and one-language-at-a-time conditions. Our findings highlight that different types of bilingual interactions can provide equal learning opportunities for bilingual children’s vocabulary development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-337
Number of pages15
JournalTranslational Issues in Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 8 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology


  • bilingualism
  • children
  • code-mixing
  • language switching
  • word learning


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