The Bilingual Home Language Boost Through the Lens of the COVID-19 Pandemic


Usage-based accounts of language acquisition suggest that bilingual language proficiency is dynamic and susceptible to changes in language use. The COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented modifications in the language learning environment of developing bilinguals. Drawing on this unique opportunity, we analyzed existing data of two matched groups of Mandarin-English bilingual children (ages 4 to 8 years, n = 38), one tested before (pre-COVID group) and the other during (COVID group) the pandemic. The dataset comprises responses to a language environment questionnaire, and scores on a sentence comprehension task and a sentence recall task in the bilinguals’ two languages. Questionnaire data revealed a richer Mandarin language environment for children in the COVID group compared to peers in the pre-COVID group. On both comprehension and production tasks, the two groups performed comparably in English but the COVID group showed better performance in Mandarin than the pre-COVID group. Within the pre-COVID group, English was stronger than Mandarin in both comprehension and production. Within the COVID group, the two languages were balanced in comprehension and Mandarin was stronger than English in production. Moreover, language use variables were correlated with production performance in both languages. These patterns illustrate the intimate relationships between language use and bilingual language proficiency through the lens of COVID-19 induced language environment modification.


Sheng, L., Wang, D., Walsh, C., Heisler, L., Li, X., & Su, P. L. (2021). The bilingual home language boost through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 3012.

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