Edited by Ute Bohnacker and Natalia Gagarina
[Studies in Bilingualism 61] 2020
► pp. 99–148
This study investigates story comprehension in 100 bilingual Turkish-Swedish children aged 4 to 7 years, growing up in Sweden with Turkish as their home language and Swedish as the societal language. Information about language development, exposure and other background factors was obtained via parental questionnaires. In both languages, children told two picture-based stories from the Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (MAIN, Gagarina et al., 2012, 2019) and answered standardised comprehension questions that probe inferencing of goals and emotions of story characters.
Overall comprehension scores and response accuracies to individual questions were calculated. Story comprehension was compared across ages, languages and tasks, and related to performance on Turkish and Swedish vocabulary tasks (Cross-Linguistic Lexical Tasks, CLT, Haman et al., 2015). A qualitative analysis explored characteristics of the MAIN picture sequences and the type of inference required to score correct on comprehension questions. Overall comprehension scores did not differ between Turkish and Swedish at group level. Comprehension scores increased significantly with age in both languages. This increase was steeper in the majority language Swedish. Younger children (age 4–5) often performed well in Turkish, whilst more older children (age 6–7) performed well in Swedish. In both languages, older children reached relatively high scores, but did not yet master all aspects of inferential story understanding as probed by MAIN. Regression models indicate that a large part of the variance in story comprehension can be explained by age and expressive vocabulary knowledge (CLT) in the respective language. Individual case studies of exceptionally poor story comprehenders vs. high performers also suggest that story comprehension and vocabulary skills are linked, but moreover that MAIN comprehension is influenced by language input and use in and outside the home.
An interesting task effect was found, indicating that the comprehension measure for the MAIN Cat and Dog picture sequences is easier than for Baby Birds/Baby Goats – even when they are administered in the very same mode. The task influenced children’s comprehension performance more than the language of testing did. Turkish and Swedish showed the same overall response patterns, with very high vs. low performance on certain individual questions. We argue that due to subtle differences in the pictorial stimuli, parallel and seemingly identical comprehension questions require inferences with rather different levels of difficulty. Comprehension scores should therefore not be straightforwardly compared across MAIN tasks.
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