The Effects of Bilingualism and SES on Language Development


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Interaction with Frequent Quality Speech

It’s not enough to just tell your kids what to do all the time. If you want to improve your kids’ language development, hold vocabulary-rich conversations with them. We asked Professor Hoff for more details.

Decoded Science: Your previous research indicates that the type of speech children hear is important.

Children need to hear rich, varied language. Image Chelseacharliwhite.

Children need to hear rich, varied language. Image Chelseacharliwhite.

Professor Hoff: Yes, quality is important. Both monolingual and bilingual children should hear what is called informative speech which uses a rich vocabulary and various grammatical structures and involves meaningful interaction with responsive adults.

Decoded Science: So parents need to interact using quality, varied speech because this will help their children’s language acquisition?

Professor Hoff: Yes, research shows that children of less educated parents develop language at a slower rate than children whose parents have a higher education. It has also been found that there is less communication between lower SES parents and their children than there is between higher SES parents and theirs, and they use a smaller vocabulary and their interactions tend to be command-like rather than conversations.

Decoded Science: Could you say whether you think that acquiring an additional language is beneficial?

Professor Hoff: My research does not produce results that say whether bilingualism is beneficial or not but they explain how bilingual development looks like.

Decoded Science: So for improved language development, parents raising their children in an environment where the communal language is different than that spoken at home should ensure that their children are receiving adequate exposure and rich input of both languages and should communicate with their children often in their mother tongue if that is their stronger language?

Professor Hoff: Yes, exactly.

Children Require Good Quality Exposure To Both Languages

Research shows that as separate factors, bilingualism and SES affect the rate of a child’s language development. Therefore kids from homes in which a language other than English is spoken will develop language skills differently and at a different rate to those of children from monolingual English-speaking homes.  Also, language minority children from lower SES households will lag behind even further than their classmates from middle-class, monolingual English-speaking homes. Taking these research findings into consideration, as Professor Hoff recommends, parents should make sure that their kids receive plenty of good quality exposure to both languages. Also,  parents should communicate with their kids in their native language if this the stronger of the two.


Hoff, E.  Interpreting the Early Language Trajectories of Children From Low-SES and Language Minority Homes: Implications for Closing Achievement Gaps.  (2013). Developmental Psychology American Psychological Association, Vol. 49, No. 1, 4–14. Accessed May 3, 2013.

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