University of Oulu

Lahti-Nuuttila, P, Laasonen, M, Smolander, S, Kunnari, S, Arkkila, E, Service, E. Language acquisition of early sequentially bilingual children is moderated by short-term memory for order in developmental language disorder: Findings from the HelSLI study. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders. 2021; 56: 907– 926.

Language acquisition of early sequentially bilingual children is moderated by short-term memory for order in developmental language disorder : findings from the HelSLI study

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Author: Lahti-Nuuttila, Pekka1,2; Laasonen, Marja1,2,3; Smolander, Sini1,4;
Organizations: 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Phoniatrics, Head and Neck Surgery, Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
3Logopedics, School of Humanities, Philosophical Faculty, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
4Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
5Centre for Advanced Research in Experimental and Applied Linguistics (ARiEAL), Department of Linguistics and Languages, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-09-16


Background: The role of domain-general short-term memory (STM) in language development remains controversial. A previous finding from the HelSLI study on children with developmental language disorder (DLD) suggested that not only verbal but also non-verbal STM for temporal order is related to language acquisition in monolingual children with DLD.

Aims: To investigate if a similar relationship could be replicated in a sample of sequentially bilingual children with DLD. In addition to the effect of age, the effect of cumulative second language (L2) exposure was studied.

Methods & Procedures: Sixty-one 4–6-year-old bilingual children with DLD and 63 typically developing (TD) bilingual children participated in a cross-sectional study conducted in their L2. Children completed novel game-like tests of visual and auditory non-verbal serial STM, as well as tests of cognitive functioning and language. Interactions of STM for order with age and exposure to L2 (Finnish) were explored as explanatory variables.

Outcomes & Results: First, the improvement of non-verbal serial STM with age was faster in sequentially bilingual TD children than in bilingual children with DLD. A similar effect was observed for L2 exposure. However, when both age and exposure were considered simultaneously, only age was related to the differential growth of non-verbal STM for order in the groups. Second, only in children with DLD was better non-verbal serial STM capacity related to an improvement in language scores with age and exposure.

Conclusions & Implications: The results suggest that, as previously found in Finnish monolingual children, domain-general serial STM processing is also compromised in bilingual children with DLD. Further, similar to the monolingual findings, better non-verbal serial STM was associated with greater language improvement with age and exposure, but only in children with DLD, in the age range studied here. Thus, in clinical settings, assessing non-verbal serial STM of bilingual children could improve the detection of DLD and understanding of its non-linguistic symptoms.

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Series: International journal of language & communication disorders
ISSN: 1368-2822
ISSN-E: 1460-6984
ISSN-L: 1368-2822
Volume: 56
Issue: 5
Pages: 907 - 926
DOI: 10.1111/1460-6984.12635
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
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Copyright information: © 2021 The Authors. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.