Child bilingualism in Sweden and Lebanon : A study of Arabic-speaking 4-to-7-year-olds

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the vocabulary and narrative skills of 100 Arabic-Swedish-speaking children (aged 4–7 years) in Sweden cross-sectionally and the development of these skills (4 to 6) in a subgroup of 10 children longitudinally. Also, the vocabulary skills of 100 Arabic-speaking bilingual children (aged 4–7 years) in Lebanon are investigated cross-sectionally and compared to the Swedish cross-sectional study. Parental questionnaires were used to gather background information concerning language input and use inside and outside the home. The comprehension and production of vocabulary was assessed with the Cross-linguistic Lexical Task (CLT; Haman et al., 2015) and narrative macrostructure with the Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (MAIN; Gagarina et al., 2019). In Sweden, both Arabic and Swedish were investigated for vocabulary (language differences, age, socio-economic status (SES) and language input) and for narrative macrostructure (language differences, age and task effects). In Lebanon, Arabic vocabulary skills were explored in relation to age, SES and language input.Sweden: For both vocabulary and narrative macrostructure, development with age was not only evident in Swedish, but also in Arabic. Children scoring high on Arabic vocabulary comprehension and production were older and had parents speaking with them mostly in Arabic. Joint book reading in Arabic boosted the children’s Arabic expressive vocabulary whereas being exposed predominantly to Swedish had a negative effect. For Swedish, high scoring children were older and had an early age of onset of Swedish. Children who were mostly exposed to Arabic scored lower on Swedish vocabulary. Surprisingly, SES (parental education) did not predict any of the vocabulary scores. In line with international studies, narrative macrostructure production scores were generally low at this age for both languages, even for the oldest children, whereas narrative comprehension was generally well developed, even for the youngest children. The longitudinal study largely confirmed the results obtained in the cross-sectional study.Lebanon: Similarly to the Swedish sample, older children scored high on Arabic receptive and expressive vocabulary, children whose parents spoke with them mostly in Arabic scored high on expressive vocabulary, and no effects of SES were found. Compared to children in Sweden, children in Lebanon code-switched many more nouns.