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Abstract

Core vocabulary is an important component of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems for school-aged children who have complex communication needs. One method of identifying core vocabulary for these individuals is to study the vocabulary of speaking children. To date, the use of core vocabulary by speaking bilingual children has not been well documented. The present study compared the core vocabulary used by children who are monolingual (French), and bilingual (French-English; English-French). We also gathered and compared language samples from French-speaking children identified as having primary language impairment (PLI), with the goal of better understanding the language differences demonstrated by children with this disability. Language samples were collected from a total of 57 children within a school setting, in a region where French is a minority language. Contrary to the hypothesis, the analysis of language transcripts revealed that there were no important differences between the core words from the groups studied.
1
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Monolingual and Bilingual Children With and Without Primary Language
Impairment: Core Vocabulary Comparison
MANON ROBILLARD , CHANTAL MAYER-CRITTENDEN , MICH È LE MINOR-CORRIVEAU &
ROXANNE B É LANGER
Speech-Language Pathology Program, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Abstract
Core vocabulary is an important component of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems for school-aged
children who have complex communication needs. One method of identifying core vocabulary for these individuals is to study the
vocabulary of speaking children. To date, the use of core vocabulary by speaking bilingual children has not been well documented.
The present study compared the core vocabulary used by children who are monolingual (French), and bilingual (French English;
English French). We also gathered and compared language samples from French-speaking children identi ed as having primary
language impairment (PLI), with the goal of better understanding the language differences demonstrated by children with this
disability. Language samples were collected from a total of 57 children within a school setting, in a region where French is a minor-
ity language. Contrary to the hypothesis, the analysis of language transcripts revealed that there were no important differences
between the core words from the groups studied.
Keywords: Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) ; Core vocabulary ; Bilingualism ; Primar y language impairment ;
Children
Introduction
Vocabulary selection is an important aspect of success-
ful augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
intervention (Beukelman, McGinnis, & Morrow, 1991;
Fallon, Light, & Paige, 2001; Fried-Oken & More,
1992). The identi cation of appropriate vocabulary is
an important  rst step in the development of effective
and ef cient AAC systems (Fallon et al., 2001). Numer-
ous studies have stated the importance of including
frequently used vocabulary in AAC systems (e.g.,
Beukelman et al., 1991; Fallon et al., 2001; Trembath,
Balandin, & Togher, 2007). In fact, research has dem-
onstrated that approximately 200 250 words represent
80% of what speaking children say (e.g., Beukelman,
Jones, & Rowan, 1989; Fallon et al., 2001; Fried-Oken
& More, 1992; Trembath et al., 2007). These words,
which make up a large percentage of what we say and
are frequently used by a large percentage of individu-
als, are sometimes referred to as core vocabulary. It has
been suggested that with a few hundred of these core
words, a child who uses AAC could express the majority of
the most frequently used words (Vanderheiden & Kelso,
1987).
To date, most research on vocabulary use has
occurred with monolingual speaking children; however
many children grow up in bilingual (or even trilingual)
environments. Since children who require the use of
AAC strategies to communicate may live in a bilingual
community, empirical data is needed to determine
whether or not bilingual children make use of vocabu-
lary in a way similar to monolingual children. We also
were interested in the use of language by speaking
children with and without language impairment. The
purpose of this study, therefore, was to examine fre-
quently used vocabulary items as used by monolingual
children, bilingual children, and children with primary
language impairment, with the goal of informing vocabu-
lary selection for children with complex communication
needs who are growing up in bilingual communities.
Vocabulary and AAC
Speaking children typically demonstrate a large and
diverse expressive vocabulary as they enter school:
approximately 2,100 words by the age of 5 years old and
2, 600 words by the age of 6 (Stahl, 1999). However,
trying to provide all of these words in an AAC system
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 2014; Early Online: 1–12
© 2014 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
ISSN 0743-4618 print/ISSN 1477-3848 online
DOI: 10.3109/07434618.2014.921240
Correspondence: Manon Robillard, Speech-Language Pathology Program, Laurentian University, 935 Ramsey Lake Road, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, P3E
2C6. E-mail: mrobillard@laurentian.ca
(Received 26 June 2013 ; revised 15 December 2013 ; accepted 18 January 2014 )
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2 M. Robillard et al.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
can create challenges for many young children with
complex communication needs and for the individu-
als who support the development of the AAC systems.
Unlike older children and adults who can generate their
own messages by using the alphabet to spell, preliterate
children are unable to generate the needed vocabulary
by spelling (Banajee, Dicarlo, & Buras Stricklin, 2003;
Zangari, 2012). For this reason, young children with
complex communication needs must rely on the words
chosen, programmed, and organized by their caregivers
and others (Carlson, 1981). Given that young children
must rely on adults such as their parents, teachers, and
therapists to select the vocabulary they need (Beukelman
et al., 1991; Beukelman & Mirenda, 2013; Marvin,
Beukelman, & Bilyeu, 1994), it is important that these
caregivers know which words are needed for participa-
tion and to support language development (Morreale,
Osborn, & Pearson, 2000; Witkowski & Baker, 2012).
There are a number of strategies for identifying
needed vocabulary, including open-ended surveys and
word lists (which are often based on transcriptions of
conversations by speaking peers). When people are
surveyed and asked to list frequently used words, they
tend to provide a large number of common names (e.g.,
book, bed, coat) rather than functional words (e.g., I,
the, that), even though the latter actually have a greater
frequency in everyday language (Beukelman et al.,
1991; Beukelman & Mirenda, 2013; Marvin et al.,
1994; Richards, 1974). Word frequency lists have been
suggested as a method for identifying the vocabulary
necessary for young children. Caregivers are provided
with lists of commonly used words, and are asked to
identify those that they believe will be most useful to the
child. The lists are typically based on a combination of
words identi ed as important by professionals, as well
as transcriptions of conversations by the population of
interest (e.g., children, seniors). It is often hypothesized
that children who make use of AAC will have com-
munication needs similar to those who communicate
verbally; therefore, compiling word lists based on the
speaking population has been the preferred technique
for establishing vocabulary to be programmed in AAC
systems (Beukelman et al., 1991; Marvin et al., 1994).
Studies conducted with speaking children can provide
a rich source of information for the creation of standard
word lists that will assist in the selection of vocabulary for
children who use AAC (Trembath et al., 2007). However,
these lists need to be used with caution (Yorkston, Smith,
& Beukelman, 1990) because an effective AAC system
must contain not only frequently used vocabulary as iden-
ti ed from research with other individuals but also the
individualized vocabulary that will be of particular interest
to the speci c child (e.g., family member names, favorite
activities). Because vocabulary selection can be dif cult,
Dark and Balandin (2007) recommend the inclusion of
a variety of vocabulary selection tools, such as word lists,
categorical inventories, direct observation, recording of
conversations during activities, and environmental and
ecological inventories.
Core and Fringe Vocabulary
In developing an AAC system, practitioners often con-
sider the identi cation of core and fringe vocabulary;
these terms are discussed in more detail in the sections
that follow.
Core Vocabulary. The words that are used most frequently
by a person can vary greatly from one person to the next,
depending on personal interests and environments. The
term core vocabulary is used to identify words that
are characterized both by their high frequency of use
and their high degree of commonality among users
(Banajee et al., 2003; Beukelman et al., 1989; Yorkston,
Honsinger, Dowden, & Marriner, 1989). In examin-
ing the research on core vocabularies, it becomes clear
that a relatively small number of words can capture a
large percentage of the words typically spoken in con-
versations by both children and adults (Beukelman &
Mirenda, 2013; Fallon et al., 2001; Vanderheiden &
Kelso, 1987; Yorkston et al., 1989). Pronouns, con-
junctions, prepositions, determinants, auxiliary verbs,
and adverbs are frequently found on core word lists
(Trembath et al., 2007). These small words are the
framework of language (Banajee et al., 2003) because
they are necessary for the formulation of sentences and
to connect utterances, thus allowing for proper syntax
(Marvin et al., 1994). A study by Clendon and Erickson
(2008) established that the same is true for written
language; a relatively small amount of core words was
needed to represent signi cant portions of children s
written language samples.
The presence or absence of core words within an
AAC system can have a great impact on children s
face-to-face communication and development of their
reading and writing skills. The inclusion of core words
in AAC systems can facilitate the production of syntac-
tically complete sentences. However, researchers agree
that although core words provide a  exible framework
for communication, they lack meaning when used in
isolation (e.g., Trembath et al., 2007). The inclusion of
vocabulary speci c to the child and the environment,
sometimes referred to as fringe vocabulary, is necessary
for effective communication and the success of AAC
(Balandin & Iacono, 1998; Beukelman et al., 1991;
Yorkston et al., 1989).
Fringe Vocabulary. Fringe vocabulary items are often
large in number, change frequently, and are highly
individualized (Vanderheiden & Kelso, 1987; Yorkston
et al., 1989). They are speci c to a person s interests
and environment and have a low degree of commonality
among users (Trembath et al., 2007). Fringe words are
less commonly used, but are necessary because they
are the words used to communicate speci c content. To
accurately communicate their messages, children with
complex communication needs would need an AAC
system that includes both core and fringe vocabularies
(Nyberg, Kushler, & Higginbotham, 1994). Conse-
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Vocabulary, Bilingulism and PLI 3
© 2014 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
quently, it is important to have a balance between the
two types of vocabulary. Because core words have a higher
frequency and higher commonality among users, the focus
of this study was to gather core vocabulary rather than
fringe vocabulary, which is very individualized.
Previous Research on Core Vocabulary
Many researchers have compiled recordings from children
for the purpose of creating core word lists (e.g., Banajee
et al., 2003; Beukelman et al., 1991; Crestani, Clendon, &
Hemsley, 2010; Fallon et al., 2001; Fried-Oken & More,
1992; Marvin et al., 1994; Trembath et al., 2007). Some
studies have shown that children, teenagers, and adults use
the same core vocabulary, and that it remains the same
across multiple environments (Baker, Hill, & Devylder,
2000; Banajee et al., 2003).
Other researchers have investigated the commonality
of core vocabularies across groups of individuals with
and without disabilities. In 2007, a German study by
Boenisch and Sachse compared the vocabulary of chil-
dren with typical development to that of children with
physical disabilities. They found that the 100 most fre-
quent words used by children with typical development
accounted for 65% of their words, and the 100 most
frequent words used by children with physical disabili-
ties accounted for 66% of their words. However, fur-
ther analyses of the language used by these two groups
revealed that the children with physical disabilities
produced on average 30 45% fewer words as well as
30% fewer prepositions than the children with typical
development (Boenisch, 2009).
Impact of Bilingualism and Primary Language
Impairment
This study was designed to investigate the core vocabu-
laries of speaking children growing up in a bilingual
environment, including children with primary language
impairment.
Bilingual Children. On a global scale, bilingualism is
very common (Lewis, 2009). Some children who use
AAC to communicate live in bilingual communities or
homes in which either both parents are bilingual, or
one parent is monolingual and the other is bilingual. In
northern Ontario, Canada, children raised in homes in
which French is typically spoken often become bilingual
speakers (French English) at an early age due to the
strong in uence of the English majority language in the
surrounding community (La amme & Bernier, 1998;
La amme, Corbett, & Southcott, 2008; La amme &
Reguigui, 2003). For many of these children, it is not
unusual that they are learning two languages at the same
time from an early age, as they hear both French and
English, either at home or in in different environments.
There are also many children who are raised in
predominantly English-speaking homes who attend
French-speaking schools. Section 23 of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and the Law on
French Language Education in Ontario (2011) grant
English-speaking children the right to attend minority
language schools, in this case French schools, provided
they meet certain minimal requirements. Thus, the
extent of exposure to the French language before school
entry varies; for some, it is nil. For this study, some of the
said bilingual children, the English-dominant children,
were actually Anglophone children learning French as
a second language (L2), and for many, the classroom
was their  rst and certainly their most important
exposure to French. They were therefore learning the
L2 sequentially because they had learned one language
before the other (Barron-Hauwaert, 2004).
According to Pe ñ a, Bedore, and Zlatic-Giunta (2002),
bilingual children must process and organize more
words than monolingual children because they may be
exposed to two words for each referent (concrete object
or concept designated by a word). However, according
to Pearson, Fern à ndez, Lewedag, and Oller (1997),
bilingual children, especially those who are acquiring
an L2 sequentially, do not live the same experiences in
both languages. For example, some children are exposed
to French solely at school and to English solely at
home. Thus, they do not necessarily have two words,
or doublets, in each language for the same referent,
because they do not have the same knowledge or lexicon
in both languages (Pearson et al., 1997). Moreover, the
vocabulary size of bilingual children in each language
has been shown to be smaller than the vocabulary size
of monolingual children (e.g., Bialystok, Barac, Blaye,
& Poulin-Dubois, 2010; Bialystok, Luk, Peets, & Yang,
2010; Hammer, Lawrence, & Miccio, 2008; Junker &
Stockman, 2002; Oller, Pearson, & Cobo-Lewis, 2007;
Patterson, 2002; Pearson et
al., 1997; Pearson, Fern à ndez,
& Oller, 1993; Ucelli & P à ez, 2007). However, some
studies have reported that bilingual school-aged chil-
dren have similar receptive vocabulary skills as their
monolingual peers (Cromdal, 1999; Yan & Nicoladis,
2009). This is also true for their expressive vocabulary
skills when there is dominance in one language (Pearson
et al., 1993). However, balanced bilingual children tend
to have a smaller vocabulary even when both languages
are combined (Elin Thordardottir, Rothenberg, Rivard,
& Naves, 2006; Yan & Nicoladis, 2009). Because of
the wide variety of research questions that have been
addressed, and the wide variety of research  ndings, it is
not clear what commonality would be seen across core
lists for these groups.
Primary Language Impairment. The term speci c lan-
guage impairment (SLI) de nes a high-incidence
developmental disorder assumed to be the result of
innate factors impacting language learning without any
observed sensory, motor, or neurological impairments
(Leonard, 1998). The term primary language impair-
ment (PLI) includes the subtle non-linguistic process-
ing weaknesses that exist together with the more obvi-
ous language delays included in SLI, such as processing
information, speed of processing, and working memory
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4 M. Robillard et al.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
(Kohnert, Windsor, & Ebert, 2009; Tomblin, Zhang,
Buckwalter, & O Brien, 2003). It is estimated that 7%
of school-aged children have language impairments
(Tomblin et al., 1997). Consequently, it may be
important to consider this variable in order to deter-
mine whether the core words used by young children
with primary language impairment differ from those
used by children who are acquiring language without
any dif culty. For example, a French-speaking child
with typical development produces approximately 50
words between 16 and 17 months of age (Boudreault,
Cabriol, Trudeau, Poulin-Dubois, & Sutton, 2007),
while a child with a language impairment produces his
or her  rst words much later (Trauner, Wulfeck, Tallal,
& Hesselink, 1995). Consequently, the sentences pro-
duced by children with language impairment would not
be as complete as those of children whose language pro-
ciency is within the norm (Parisse & Maillart, 2004;
Rice et al., 2010). In addition, their stories are shorter
and less complex (Guti é rrez-Clellen, 2004; Mayer-
Crittenden, 2013; Scott & Windsor, 2000). Studies
conducted in Quebec, Canada, by Elin Thordardottir
(2011); and in Ontario by Mayer-Crittenden (2013),
show that French-speaking children with language
impairments in both majority and minority linguistic
contexts experience dif culties in a variety of linguistic
and non-linguistic areas, be it lexical, morphosyntactic,
syntactic, or narrative. It seems reasonable to suggest
that these children would not use the same core words as
children whose language pro ciency is within the norm,
but research to date has not compared the core words
of these two groups. It was hypothesized that their core
words would differ, given the differences in vocabularies
and syntax.
Research Objective of the Current Study
In order for children with complex communica-
tion needs to communicate fully in a broad range of
contexts, core words are necessary when developing
vocabulary for an AAC system (Witkowski & Baker,
2012). For these children to learn to read and write,
the inclusion of core words is also essential (Witkowski
& Baker, 2012). Of course, the addition of fringe words
that re ect the interests, personality, and environment
of each child is also indispensable. Lists of core words
have been compiled from recordings of monolingual
children without language impairments in countries
such as the United States and Australia (e.g., Banajee
et al., 2003, Beukelman, McGinnis, & Morrow, 1991;
Crestani et al., 2010; Fallon et al., 2001; Fried-Oken
& More, 1992; Marvin et al., 1994; Trembath et al.,
2007). Clinicians are faced with numerous challenges,
however, when selecting vocabulary for French mono-
lingual and bilingual (French English and English
French) children who use AAC and attend a French
school, but live in an area where English is the major-
ity language. Not only have core vocabulary lists not
been developed for children with complex commu-
nication needs who communicate in these linguistic
environments but it is uncertain if lists that have been
developed for other children with different language
experiences would be bene cial to children who are
exposed to more than one language.
Bilingual children often have reduced vocabulary
in each of their languages, as do children with a pri-
mary language impairment (e.g., Hammer et al., 2008;
Junker & Stockman, 2002; Oller et al., 2007; Patter-
son, 2002; Pearson et al., 1993; Pearson et al., 1997;
Ucelli & P à ez, 2007). Therefore, it would be possible
that bilingual children and those with PLI would use
fewer core words. Yet, the impact of bilingualism on core
vocabulary use has not been reported. Likewise, it is not
known whether or not children with PLI use the same
core words as children without language impairments.
It was hypothesized that the core words used by these
groups would vary; however, to date, no empirical study
has reported a comparison of the core vocabulary used
by children with normal language pro ciency (mono-
lingual and bilingual children), and children who have
language impairments. The speci c research questions
for this study were: (a) Do monolingual (French) and
bilingual (French English; English French) children
use the same core words in French?, and (b) Do chil-
dren with and without primary language impairment
use the same French core vocabulary?
Method
Recruitment
Recruitment was conducted from a sample of children
who had participated in a study on bilingualism led
by the second author of the current study (Mayer-
Crittenden, Robillard, Thordardottir, B é langer, &
Minor-Corriveau, manuscript in preparation). Follow-
ing the latter s consent and ethics approval to use data
collected for secondary purposes, the results of the
language samples were available for this new study.
Participants
A total of 57 children aged 53 77 months ( M 66.91,
SD 6.87) participated in this study. There were 34 girls
and 23 boys; 23 of the children attended junior kinder-
garten and 34 attended senior kindergarten in one of
the seven elementary schools from the Conseil scolaire
public du Grand Nord de l Ontario (CSPGNO) of the
City of Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. These are
French schools in a region where French is a minority
language and English is the majority language.
Linguistic Status
The linguistic status was determined based on the
results of a study on bilingualism conducted by the
second author (Mayer-Crittenden et al., manuscript in
preparation). The children s parents had responded to a
questionnaire that focused on their linguistic background,
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Vocabulary, Bilingulism and PLI 5
© 2014 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
which permitted the proper classi cation of the chil-
dren as French monolingual (French), French English
bilingual (French dominant), or English French bilingual
(English dominant). The participants were divided into
three linguistic groups based on the following: their  rst
language (L1), the languages used in a variety of con-
texts, and language exposure in different environments.
The children identi ed as belonging to the monolingual
French group were exposed to 5 hours or less of English
per week, which is in accordance with studies by Elin
Thordardottir, Keheyia, Lesard, Sutton, and Trudeau
(2010) and Mayer-Crittenden, Thordardottir, Robillard,
Minor-Corriveau, and B é langer (in press). The bilin-
gual French English (French dominant) group was
exposed to more than 5 hours, but less than 25 hours
of English per week (Mayer-Crittenden et al., manu-
script in preparation). The bilingual English French
(English dominant) group was exposed to more than
25 hours of English per week, which corresponds to
the language ratio established by Pearson et al. (1997)
as the cut off for being considered a bilingual speaker.
For the present study, six children, four girls and two
boys, aged 57 77 months, were part of the monolingual
French group ( M ) 69.83, SD 7.39). A total of 22,
12 girls and 10 boys, aged 54 76 months ( M 69.83,
SD 7.25) were part of the bilingual French-dominant
group. A total of 19 children, 11 girls and 8 boys, aged
from 53 76 months ( M 67.21, SD 6.56) were part
of the bilingual English-dominant group. A total of
10 children 7 girls and 3 boys were excluded from
the  rst three groups because they had been identi ed
as having a language impairment in the study conducted
by Mayer-Crittenden et al. (manuscript in preparation)
and by their school board speech-language patholo-
gist. Those children, aged 57 77 months ( M 64.8,
SD 6.39), formed the PLI group and were analyzed
separately. All 10 of these children were considered to be
from bilingual environments: 3 were identi ed as French
dominant and 7 were identi ed as English dominant.
Environment
All of the children were recorded in their classroom
throughout an entire school day. During the recordings,
the teachers followed their usual schedule, including
for activities led by the teacher and the child, such as
free play. So as not to interfere with the organic and
environmental  ow of the routine, no attempt was made
to ensure that every child participated for comparable
periods of time in activities led by the teacher or the
child. Children were free to participate in classroom
activities as they had been doing in this familiar context
for the previous year or two.
Material
To record the speech samples, the children wore a small
Sony digital voice recorder (model ICD-PX312)
1 . In
order to maximize their comfort, the children had the
choice of wearing the device around their waist in a
pouch designed for cell phones, or around their neck
using a lanyard.
Procedure
The recordings were spread over a period of 10 school
days, but samples were collected from each child on one
single day. Typically, more than one child was recorded
simultaneously in the same classroom. A research
assistant participated in  tting the children with the
equipment upon their arrival to school. The assistant
remained at the school all day to help the children put
on and remove the recorders as needed. Children were
instructed to ignore the recorder. One child refused to
wear it and did not participate in the study. In order
to allow the children to play at will the recorders were
removed during recess and gym.
The recorders were not sound activated. Samples
were collected from the time the child arrived at
school (8:35 a.m. 8:50 a.m.) until the last bell rang at
3:15 p.m. The length of the recording was 4 to 5 hours
per participant. The variation can be explained by the
fact that some children participated in activities during
which they had to remove the recorders, while some did
not. For example, on some days, some children spent
recess inside the classroom due to rain and continued
to wear the recorders.
Transcription of Speech Samples. Five trained research
assistants participated in the transcription of the record-
ings. They transcribed the samples according to a prede-
termined protocol (see Appendix A) based on the study
by Trembath et al. (2007). Only the intelligible words
were retained. Words relating to the recording equip-
ment as well as words repeated in songs or in activities
were omitted. Filler words were transcribed and consid-
ered as words (e.g., hum, euh). As in previous studies
(e.g., Trembath et al., 2007) and for con dentiality rea-
sons, the CN code was substituted for the names of the
children while the names of teachers and other adults in
the classroom were replaced with the TN code.
Analysis of Transcripts. The analysis of the transcriptions
was performed using the Systemic Analysis of Language
Transcripts (SALT ) software (Miller & Chapman,
1990). Only the codes that were necessary for this study
were used. Two trained research assistants participated
in this analysis.
Inter-rater Agreement. The inter-rater agreement was
established for the transcription of speech samples and
for the SALT analysis. In all, 25% of the recordings were
transcribed by a second research assistant, to examine
whether the same words were transcribed; for the SALT
analyses, whether the assistants used the same codes
was examined. When disagreements occurred regard-
ing the transcriptions, the two assistants listened to the
recordings together to decide on the words used by the
child. The inter-rater agreement of the transcriptions
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6 M. Robillard et al.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
was 70%. Given the noisy environment in which data
was collected, it is believed that this rate is acceptable.
Due to the ambient noise, it was sometimes dif cult to
hear the children s voices and to differentiate one child
from another. The fact that the children could not be
seen during the transcription may have had an effect on
the reliability of the transcriptions. However, since simi-
lar studies have not reported an inter-rater agreement,
it is not possible to judge this value.
For the SALT analyses, we examined whether the
same codes were used during transcriptions. The same
comparison approach was adopted for the SALT analy-
ses. The inter-rater agreement for the codes used in the
SALT analyses was 96.6%.
Data Analysis
In order to calculate the frequency of words, descrip-
tive analyses were performed. The transcriptions were
rst divided into their four respective groups: French,
French dominant, English dominant, and PLI. The
number of different words per group and the frequency
of use for each word were calculated using the SALT
software. The commonality of words was calculated
by assigning one point for each child who used a given
word. The maximum value of the commonality score
was equal to the number of participants in the group
(the maximum commonality score was 6 for the French
group, 22 for the French-dominant group, 19 for the
English-dominant group, and 10 for the group with pri-
mary language impairment).
The core words were determined using the same
selection criteria used in previous studies related
to core vocabulary (e.g., Beukelman et al., 1989;
Trembath et al., 2007; Vanderheiden & Kelso, 1987).
To be coded as a core word, the word had to be used
frequently by the individuals in the group (a frequency
of use of at least 0.5 per 1000 words) and had to be used
by multiple individuals in the group (used by at least
50% of the participants). These two criteria were neces-
sary for a word to be included on the core list. All other
words were classi ed as being fringe. Although some of
the bilingual children used English words on occasion,
only French words were retained for this analysis.
For the frequency analysis, some words were combined.
For example, contracted forms and non-contracted forms
of a word were combined (e.g., je and j I). In addi-
tion, the in ectional forms of the same morpheme that
were subject to frequent errors among children were also
combined in order to not overestimate or underestimate
their frequency (e.g., le, la, l and les THE). The same
was done for the in ectional forms of the same lexeme
(e.g., chat, chats, chattes and chattes CAT, CATS). In
addition, the different forms of the same verb that are
sometimes subject to errors among children (e.g., fais,
fait, faite, and faites MAKE) were grouped. However,
the in nitive forms were recorded separately or grouped
with their homophone (e.g., lire READ / faire MAKE/
aller, all é , all é e, all é s, all é es GO).
Results
French-Only (Monolingual) Group
The total number of words used by the French-only
group ( n 6) was 14,648 (average of 2,441 words per
participant). Because the frequency had to be equal to
or greater than 0.5 per 1000 words for a word to be con-
sidered as core, a word for this group had to appear at
least 7.3 times in the combined transcript to be retained.
The commonality of words was then calculated. Because
words needed to be used by 50% of the participants, a
word required a commonality score of at least 3 to be
considered a core word. Following these calculations,
216 core words (accounting for 11,740 of the words
used) were retained. These words represented 80.15%
of the total sample. The 50 most frequent core words
accounted for 57.46% of the total words in the sample,
the most frequent 40 words accounted for 53.50% of
the sample, and the 10 most frequent words accounted
for 28.11% of the sample.
The complete list of core words consisted of 216
words, including determinants (e.g., le, la, l , les
THE), personal pronouns (e.g., je, j I), demonstrative
pronouns ( ç a THAT), interrogative pronouns (quoi
WHAT), conjunctions (et AND), verbs (regarde,
regardes, regardent LOOK), adverbs (comme AS),
interrogative adverbs (comment HOW), prepositions
(de FROM, OF, ABOUT), interjections (ok, okay
OK, OKAY) and inde nite adjectives (tout, toute, toutes
ALL). Only one noun (Madame, French for Mrs) was
found on this list; there were no object names.
French-Dominant (Bilingual) Group
The transcriptions of the 22 French-dominant children
were combined into one transcription, in order to per-
form the necessary analysis. The total words recorded
for this group was 49,088 (average of 2,584 words per
participant). Words needed a frequency of at least 24.5
to be included and a commonality score of at least 11 to
be counted as a core word. Following these calculations,
192 core words were retained among the French-dom-
inant children, representing 72.82% of the sample. The
50, 40, and 10 most frequent core words represented
55.54%, 51.64% and 26.83% of the sample, respec-
tively. The words on the 192-word list included the same
parts of speech (determinants, personal pronouns, etc.)
as for the monolingual (French-only) group and, once
again, no object names were found on this list.
English-Dominant (Bilingual) Group
For the English-dominant children, 19 transcriptions
were combined to obtain the total number of words used
and the usage frequency of each word. These children
used a total of 43,711 words (average of 1,987 words
per participant). A word needed a frequency of at least
21.9 and a commonality of at least10 to be included on
the list of core words. Following these calculations, 182
core words were retained, representing 68.45% of the
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Vocabulary, Bilingulism and PLI 7
© 2014 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
sample. The 50, 40, and 10 most frequent core words
represented 52.90%, 49.00%, and 25.14% of the sample,
respectively. As for the monolingual (French-only) and
bilingual (French-dominant) children, similar parts of
speech were observed, and no object names were found
on this list.
PLI Group
To calculate the core words of the children with
primary language impairment, the transcriptions of the
10 children with language impairments were combined.
Because the participants spoke 19,022 words (average
of 1,902 words per child), a word needed a frequency
of 9.5 to be included and a commonality score of at
least 5 to be counted. Following these calculations, 190
words were retained as core words. The core words
among children with primary language impairment
represented 77.85% of total words. The 50, 40, and 10
most frequent core words represented 59.62%, 55.35%,
and 29.63% of the sample, respectively. As was the case
for the other groups, no object names were on this list.
Comparison Between Groups
To compare the commonality of core vocabulary across
the four different groups, the percentage of identical
words between the lists of core words was calculated.
Table I shows the percentage of words that appeared on
both core lists for two compared groups.
The 10 most frequent core words between the four
groups were then compared; 9 were identical among the
French and the French-dominant children, and 9 were
identical among the French and the English-dominant
groups. Moreover, the 10 most frequent words among
the French-dominant and English-dominant children
were identical, with the exception that they differed in
sequence. Among the children with language impair-
ments, 8 words were identical to those of the French-
monolingual children, the French-dominant children,
and the English-dominant children. These words are
presented in Table II.
Discussion
The goal of this study was to compare the core vocabu-
lary of monolingual children, bilingual children, and
children with primary language impairment. From
full-day recordings in a school environment, lists of
core words were created for the following four groups:
French-only (monolingual), French-dominant (French
English bilingual), English-dominant (English French
bilingual), and PLI. The groups were then compared, in
order to answer the research questions.
French Core Words: Monolingual Versus Bilingual
French-only (Monolinguals). In the French-monolingual
group, 216 core words were identi ed, which represented
80.15% of the words used. These numbers were very
similar to studies conducted in English in the United
States and Australia and support the fact that approxi-
mately 200 250 words represent 80% of what speaking
children say (Banajee et al., 2003; Crestani et al., 2010;
Fallon et al., 2001; Fried-Oken & More, 1992; Marvin
et al., 1994; Trembath et al., 2007). Regardless of the
language, the number of core words and the percent-
age of total spoken words for which they account are
similar. Similar to the English studies, French-speaking
children s core words are mostly function words, and
not nouns.
French-dominant and English-dominant (Bilinguals).
Among the bilingual French-dominant group, 192 core
words were identi ed, which represented 72.82% of the
sample (total words spoken). For the bilingual English-
dominant group, 182 core words were identi ed, repre-
senting 68.45% of the total words spoken. There were
few differences between the core word lists of the two
groups: 86.01% of the words were identical between the
two groups, and the 10 most frequent words were the
same words (although their sequence differed).
An additional comparison of interest was between
the children who were bilingual and monolingual
(French only). The percentage of identical core words
between the French-only and the French-dominant
(bilingual) children was 79.72%, and the percentage
between the French-only and the English-dominant
(dominant) children was 75.58%. Between the bilin-
guals and the monolinguals, the 10 most frequent
words differed by one word only, and the 40 most fre-
quent words differed by only four words. This would
Table I. Percentage of Identical Words Between Monolinguals,
Bilinguals and Children with Primary Language Impairments (PLI).
French
French-
dominant
English-
dominant PLI
French 79.72% 75.58% 74.65%
French-dominant 86.01% 72.54%
English-dominant – 79.58%
PLI –
Table II. Comparison of the Ten Most Frequent French Core
Words, and their Ranking of Frequency of Use, for the Four Groups
Studied.
French-only
French-
dominant
English-
dominant PLI
Je, j ’ I 1 (49.25)
* 1(49.25) 1 (40.97) 2 (47.16)
Le, la, l, les THE 2 (42.19) 2 (44.06) 2 (40.22) 1 (49.99)
Ç a THAT 5 (24.99) 3 (26.89) 3 (28.28) 3 (31.96)
C ’ est IT ’ S 4 (28.06) 4 (25.42) 4 (27.27) 4 (28.70)
Tu, t ’ – YOU 6 (22.80) 10 (10.76) 9 (17.46)
Un, une, des A, AN 3 (30.52) 5 (24.28) 5 (22.21) 5 (27.39)
A, as HAS, HAVE 7 (22.05) 8 (19.76) 7 (18.76)
Moi ME 8 (20.62) 6 (23.67) 8 (18.74) 6 (25.13)
Pas NOT 9 (20.62) 7 (22.12) 6 (21.50) 7 (23.23)
Ai HAVE 10 (19.23) 8 (21.45)
*
Number of times a word was used per 1,000 words of language
sample.
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8 M. Robillard et al.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
mean that bilingual children attending a French
school demonstrate a similar use of high frequency
French words as children who speak French.
The results of this study demonstrate that mono-
lingual (French only) and bilingual (French English;
English French) children essentially use the same core
words in French. A possible explanation for the simi-
larity between the core words of the monolinguals and
those of the bilingual children is that the recordings
took place at the end of the school year, after the junior
kindergarten children were exposed to an environment
that is rich in French vocabulary for 9 months, while
the senior kindergarten children had been immersed in
this environment for almost 2 years and so had higher
exposure to French only
French Core Words: Children with and Without Primary
Language Impairment
PLI Group. This group used 190 core words, which
accounted for 77.85% of the words in the combined
transcripts for this group. Although no formal statistical
analysis was conducted, the number of core words and
the percentage of total words did not appear to differ
from those of the monolingual group or the two bilin-
gual groups. Moreover, 74.65% of the core words were
the same as those of the monolingual children, 72.54%
were the same as those of the French-dominant chil-
dren, and 79.58% were the same as those of English-
dominant children. Even if the overall language skills of
the children with and without primary language impair-
ment differed, the words they used most often did not
differ in this study, the results of which provide evidence
that children with and without primary language impair-
ment use the same core words in French.
It is interesting to consider these  ndings within
the broader context of past research on children with
primary language impairment. Although they had the
same core vocabulary, the fact that they used the same
core words at the same frequency as children without
language impairments does not provide us with informa-
tion regarding the proper use of the words. In addition,
the syntax and the complexity of their sentences could
have been affected. Past research provides evidence that
these children demonstrate a reduced average length
of utterance (Parisse & Maillart, 2004; Rice, Smolik,
Perpick, Thompson, Rytting, & Blossom, 2010) and
produce more incomplete sentences (Guti é rrez-Clellen,
2004; Scott & Windsor, 2000). Perhaps most important
is the size of total vocabulary, with past research indi-
cating that children with primary language impairment
have a less extensive vocabulary (e.g., Oller et al., 2007;
Patterson, 2002; Pearson et al., 1993; Pearson et al.,
1997; Ucelli & P à ez, 2007); the size of total vocabulary
was not examined in this study.
French Core Words: All Groups Combined
Given that no important differences were observed
in our descriptive analysis between the French,
French-dominant, English-dominant and PLI groups,
the transcriptions of all 57 children were combined.
Having a single list will facilitate the task of those who
develop AAC systems for francophone or bilingual chil-
dren attending French schools, because they will not
need to determine the language dominance of the child
(francophone, French-dominant bilingual or English-
dominant bilingual), which can be a complex process.
Core words for the sample as a whole were calculated
based on all of the recordings, and 200 words, repre-
senting 73.03% of all words, were retained. The 50,
40, and 10 most frequent words represented 54.55%,
50.95%, and 26.62%, respectively. The list of the 40
most frequent core words for the sample as a whole can
be found in Appendix B.
As in previous studies (e.g., Fallon et al., 2001;
Vanderheiden & Kelso, 1987; Yorkston et al., 1989),
the number of core words used by the children in this
study was limited (the largest list had 216 words); how-
ever, they were used often and by half or more of the
participants. Results of this study also support previous
studies (e.g., Trembath et al., 2007) stating that core
words are not usually nouns but rather are most often
pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, determinants,
verbs, and adverbs. The provision of this vocabulary and
instruction in its use raises interesting intervention chal-
lenges. For example, although this vocabulary is needed
to create sentences that are syntactically complete, its
use often presents challenges for representing words
in symbol or picture format when traditional orthog-
raphy is not an option. In addition, for children with
physical disabilities who experience dif culty in select-
ing vocabulary, these words, while important, may not
be considered priorities to support communication by
either the person with complex communication needs
or his or her communication partner, who may place an
emphasis on speed of communication.
At the same time, it is recognized that the absence of
these core words could greatly impact the ability to cre-
ate sentences that are syntactically complete. For young
children, achievement in school relies on the ability
to communicate with others (Morreale et al., 2000;
Witkowski & Baker, 2012). The inability to create syn-
tactically correct sentences, at those times when doing
so is a priority (e.g., preparing for a classroom presen-
tation) could negatively impact on a child s academic
participation and self-esteem/image. Core words may
be especially important for learning and using written
language (Clendon & Erickson, 2008). Although chil-
dren who use AAC can communicate face-to-face in a
telegraphic style (e.g., without articles), the absence of
core words within AAC systems could have a consider-
able impact on the development of their reading and
writing skills. Because function words cannot be easily
represented for children who are pre-literate, future stud-
ies are needed to investigate the best representational
method for these function words. For example, it may be
just as easy for some children to learn the written form
versus an abstract symbol that represents the word.
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Vocabulary, Bilingulism and PLI 9
© 2014 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Clinical Implications
Although this study did not gather vocabulary from
children who use AAC to communicate, results do
have clinical implications for these children. The core
vocabulary list gathered from the sample as a whole can
support clinicians and families during the vocabulary
selection process for young children who attend a French
school, whether they are monolingual or bilingual. While
providing a  exible framework for communication, the
core words gathered from this study are not intended to
be used alone, as they could lack meaning when used
in isolation. Careful thought needs to be given to the
combination of core and fringe vocabulary. The inclu-
sion of fringe vocabulary that is speci c to the child
and the environment would be recommended and
necessary for the success of AAC (Balandin & Iacono,
1998; Beukelman et al., 1991; Yorkston et al., 1989).
Results may be similar for children who speak other
languages, but future studies are needed to support
this hypothesis.
Because object names are most often chosen during
the vocabulary selection process (Adamson, Romski,
Deffenbach, & Sevcik, 1992), the AAC team should
carefully consider the need for the core words from this
list in developing AAC systems for young children. As
part of this process, family members and others who
are in the child s environments should participate in the
selection of fringe vocabulary. Additionally, input from
a variety of sources will be needed to ensure that the
AAC system can be used appropriately in a variety of
linguistic environments (e.g., that the gloss for the sym-
bols is available in the needed languages, in this case,
French and/or English).
Limitations
The noisy classrooms made the transcription process
very dif cult and may have had a negative impact
on inter-rater reliability. Video recordings could have
facilitated the transcription task, but this was not the
preferred method of data collection because  lming
each child would have been disruptive to the classroom
and would have potentially impacted the vocabulary
used.
The vocabulary used by the children could have been
impacted by the fact that the recordings were all made
within a school setting rather than at home or during a
recreational activity. Although studies such as Banajee
et al. (2003), who analyzed the vocabulary of 50 chil-
dren aged 24 36 months, have shown that core vocabu-
lary does not change across different environments,
the participants of the current study were older than
those in the Banajee et al. study, and differences may
be observed in different environments for this popula-
tion. Also, the fact that the recordings were all limited
to one speci c time of the year (i.e., spring) could have
impacted the words used by the children. In addition,
because the French vocabulary was gathered in a region
where French was a minority language, it is not known
if the children s French core words would be the same if
they were gathered in different areas of Canada or other
countries where French is a majority language.
The length of recordings varied between children
because some participated in more activities where
they did not speak, for example, within the library
environment. Some children participated in several
structured activities; while others had more time for
free play, therefore giving them more opportunities to
talk and to interact with other children. For the bilin-
gual children, the fact that the recordings took place
at the end of the school year may have impacted their
vocabulary since they had been exposed to French
since the beginning of the school year. Had the study
been conducted in the fall, the core words used by the
bilingual children may have differed greatly. Finally,
the small participant size of each group was also a
limitation, because the French and PLI groups were
much smaller than the two bilingual groups.
Future Research
Future research should investigate children of different
age groups and languages, in order to compare results.
Ideally, the samples of children to be compared would
be large enough to represent a range of linguistic skills,
would meet precise inclusion/exclusion criteria, and
would be of equivalent size (to support statistical analy-
sis). Future studies should also include recordings from
different environments at different times of the year, in
order to further understanding of the impact of bilin-
gualism and language impairments on core vocabulary
use. In order to obtain a list of core words that may
be more useful for clinicians, future studies should ana-
lyze the data by looking at the top 10% of the words
from each category (e.g., nouns, verbs, modi ers). In
this way, they could support the availability of a range
of vocabulary items for the child with complex com-
munication needs. Additionally, future research should
investigate the development of common metrics (e.g.,
how many words are needed to represent 80% of the
total words spoken?) in order to support comparisons
between published studies.
Conclusion
The goal of this study was to compare the core words
used by monolingual and bilingual children and chil-
dren with and without language impairments in a
French-speaking school environment. Contrary to the
hypothesis, the analysis of language transcripts from
recordings made during an entire school day revealed
that there were no important differences between the
lists of core words among the four groups studied:
monolingual French, bilingual French-dominant,
bilingual English-dominant, and children with pri-
mary language impairment.
This preliminary data suggests that the same core
words could be provided in AAC systems for children
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10 M. Robillard et al.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
who are monolingual or bilingual and have language
impairments. These  ndings could facilitate the vocabu-
lary selection process for families and speech-language
pathologists, because a different list of core words is
not needed for these distinctive populations. Future
research to investigate additional strategies to support
participation in bilingual communities for children with
complex communication needs is required.
Author Note
This research was performed as part of the  rst author s
doctoral dissertation.
The authors would like to thank the Conseil Scolaire
Public du Grand Nord de l Ontario (CSPGNO) for the
partnership that allowed this research to be conducted.
Thank you to the research assistants who par-
ticipated in the data collection and analysis: M é lissa
Therrien, Karine Daoust, Melissa Lariviere, Williane
Kanyamuneza, Danelle Lefebvre, Michelle Brouillette,
Ashley DeCaen, and Maxine Perrin. The authors would
also like to thank Ali Reguigui and Simon La amme for
their guidance.
Note
Sony Digital Voice Recorder Model ICD-PX312, 1.
Sony Electronics Inc., Tokyo, Japan c., 2014.
Declaration of interest: The authors report no con-
icts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for
the content and writing of the article.
This research was made possible through a partial
nancial contribution from Health Canada. The views
expressed here do not necessarily represent the of cial
views of Health Canada.
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Appendix B
The 40 Most Frequent French Core words for Monolinguals, Bilinguals and
Children with Primary Language Impairment.
Words Frequency Commonality
je, j ’ I 44.37 57
le, la, l , les THE 44.12 57
ç a THAT 28.03 57
c ’ est IT ’ S 27.36 57
un, une, des A 26.10 56
moi ME 22.04 56
pas NOT 21.87 55
tu, t ’ YOU 19.17 56
a, as HAS, HAVE 19.07 57
ai HAVE 17.75 57
non NO 17.18 57
madame, madames MRS. 15.20 57
va, vas, vais GO, GOES 13.62 56
on WE 12.22 57
oui YES 11.96 57
de, d ’ FROM, OF, ABOUT 11.62 57
il, elle, ils, elles HE, SHE, THEY 11.31 55
à TO 10.84 57
ma, mon MY 10.80 57
peux, peut CAN 9.53 54
fais, fait, faite, faites DO, DID 9.27 56
ok, okay OK, OKAY 9.24 56
regarde, regardes, regardent LOOK 8.80 56
est – ce que, est – ce qu ’ IS THAT 7.35 55
veux, veut WANT 7.33 57
es, est ARE, IS 7.13 56
et AND 6.74 56
deux TWO 5.93 57
quoi WHAT 5.90 55
comme AS, LIKE 5.86 57
dans, dedans IN, INSIDE 5.79 57
l à THERE 5.65 56
oh OH 5.35 57
pour FOR 4.96 54
tout, toute, toutes ALL 4.89 54
toi YOU 4.88 56
sais, sait KNOW 4.68 55
faire MAKE 4.38 51
dis, dit SAY 4.36 51
ici HERE 4.26 53
Note . English translations may not always be exact, as some words
cannot be directly translated from French .
Appendix A
Transcription Rules Based on the Study by Trembath et al.
(2007)
Each utterance will be transcribed on a separate 1.
line. Utterances will be de ned by changes in into-
nation and pauses of two seconds or more.
Sound repetitions (e.g., 2. c-cochon ) or syllable rep-
etitions (e.g., beau-beaucoup ) will be transcribed
as a single word.
Interjections ( 3. um, huh, oh, etc.) will be typed
accordingly and counted as words. Prolongations
and other vocalizations will not be included.
Numbers will be transcribed as words. 4.
Swears will be transcribed. 5.
Sound imitations (e.g., animal noises, car noises) 6.
will be inserted in parentheses and omitted from
the analyses.
Words repeated in songs or games will be tran-7.
scribed only once.
Names of characters in books and movies will be 8.
transcribed as single words.
Children s names will be coded as (CN). 9.
Teacher or adult names will be coded as (TN). 10.
Unintelligible words will not be transcribed and 11.
will be represented by the (X) code.
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To be successful, students who use AAC and attend general education classes require extensive supports and frequent practice with their communication systems. In this article, I explore the challenges faced by educational teams and discuss strategies for helping general education teachers, paraprofessionals, and others provide the AAC learning and practice opportunities these students need to maximize their communication skills and academic achievement.
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The evaluation of the language skills of francophone children for clinical and research purposes is complicated by a lack of appropriate norm-referenced assessment tools. The purpose of this study was the collection of normative data for measures assessing major areas of language for 5-year-old monolingual speakers of Quebec French. Children in three age-groups (4;6, 5;0 and 5;6 years, n=78) were administered tests of language knowledge and linguistic processing, addressing vocabulary, morphosyntax, syntax, narrative structure, nonword repetition, sentence imitation, rapid automatized naming, following directions, and short term memory. The assessment measures were drawn from existing tools and from tools developed for this study, and included formal tests as well as spontaneous language measures. Normative data are presented for the three age groups. Results showed a systematic increase with age for most of the measures. Correlational analysis revealed relationships of varying strength between the measures, indicating some overlap between the measures, but also suggesting that the measures differ in the linguistic skills they tap into. The normative data presented will facilitate the language assessment of French-speaking 5-year-olds, permitting their performance to be compared to the normal range of typically developing monolingual French-speaking children and allowing the documentation of children's profiles of relative strengths and weaknesses within language.
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Ten professionals (five speech pathologists, three rehabilitation counsellors, and two teachers) participated in a survey to investigate their ability to predict the topics and vocabulary of meal-break conversations at work. Participants selected two topics that they thought were likely to occur during meal-break conversations between nondisabled employees for each day of the week. They selected five key words appropriate to each chosen topic. The topics and key words were analyzed for frequency and commonality and compared to the topics and vocabulary from actual meal-break conversations in the workplace. The professionals accurately predicted some topics that occurred in the actual conversational sample. However, one-third of the key words (33%) predicted by the participants did not occur in the conversational sample. The implications of these findings for vocabulary selection for augmented communicators are discussed.
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Children who learn a language in a linguistic minority context often have limited opportunities to use it outside the home and school. This is the case for English speaking children who learn French in Northern Ontario, Canada, where the majority language is English. However, these children learn their native language without great difficulty. At the outset, different linguistic contexts in which both majority and minority language learners dwell will be examined for a comparison. Very little research has demonstrated how bilingual English-French children learn French as a second language (L2) in an English dominant context. It is important to specify that these children are not learning French in an immersion program but rather through a French school system. Parents chose to enroll their children in French schools in order to provide them with the opportunity to become bilingual, even though they themselves often only speak English. An ethnolinguistic practical model has been proposed for empirical validation to better account for the individual and societal influences on second language acquisition in a bilingual community. © Common Ground, Manon Robillard, Chantal Mayer-Crittenden, All Rights Reserved.