Story telling abilities in bilingual children with and without DLD

Govindarajan, K., & Paradis, J. (2019). Narrative abilities of bilingual children with and without Developmental Language Disorder (SLI): Differentiation and the role of age and input factors. Journal of communication disorders, 77, 1–16.


Aim of the paper:


The authors looked at how bilingual children with DLD and typically developing (TD) bilingual children differ in their narrative production, or ability to tell stories. All children were still learning English as their second language. The authors also investigated how age, language learning environment and language exposure related to differences in their story telling ability. The sample consisted of 24 children with DLD and 63 TD children and both groups were learning English. They were given a narrative task and a non-verbal IQ task to complete. Their parents filled in a questionnaire on their child’s language learning environment.


The children had to tell a story based on picture books. Their narratives were assessed based on how the story was organised, their mean length of utterances and how they introduced key characters/items relevant to the story. This was compared against monolingual norms (typical performance from monolingual children of the same age).


What was found:


  • TD bilingual children showed scores similar to monolingual norms on all three components. However, 22% scored below monolingual norms, especially with introducing characters/items in their narratives.

  • DLD bilingual children had lower scores compared to monolingual children on all components. They also had lower scores comparing with TD bilingual children except for introducing characters and items, where the difference was not substantial.

  • Richer language learning environments and longer exposure to English was associated with better narrative skills amongst TD bilingual children, but not with bilingual children with DLD.

  • Older bilingual children with DLD performed better, using longer utterances and a wider range of vocabulary, compared to younger children with DLD.


What does this mean?


Amongst bilingual children, those with DLD have poorer narrative skills than TD except for being able to introduce key characters/items into the story, where there was no difference. Despite having similar scores, over a fifth of TD children still scored lower than monolinguals. The authors explained that these findings may be due to the challenge of forming a story based on pictures, compared to easier alternatives of narrative tasks used in similar studies. This finding highlights the need to be cautious when using monolingual norms as a benchmark to diagnose DLD in bilingual children as some TD bilingual children also fall short of these norms but do not have DLD. The differences between TD and DLD children could be due to TD children being better able to transfer skills from their first language into their second language. The effect of language learning environments was stronger for TD compared to DLD. This suggests that unlike TD children, children with DLD do not benefit as much from a more stimulating language environment. Older age is found to benefit children with DLD in improving their story telling abilities. These findings can be useful to clinicians on how they assess bilingual children for the presence of DLD and consider factors impacting their language abilities.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is not open access. Please email E-DLD@bath.ac.uk ad request this paper if you wish the full paper.