Growing up in a linguistically diverse language environment and/or a multilingual family shapes language and communicative development. This dissertation focused on how growing up in a linguistically diverse environment versus a multilingual family affects development of language awareness—the understanding of the communicative functions and conventions of language. Specifically, the present dissertation examined the effects of two kinds of foreign language experience on language awareness development: (1) exposure to many languages in your community (i.e., community linguistic diversity) and (2) exposure to one foreign language for a brief period of time. Moreover, this dissertation examined how these two kinds of foreign language experience impact children’s development of four aspects of language awareness: children’s (1) ability to name language(s); (2) awareness of their language environment; (3) understanding of the communicative consequences of speaking different languages; and (4) understanding of labeling conventions across languages—that objects have different names in different languages.
Experiment 1 examined whether exposure to community linguistic diversity affects monolingual children’s development of language awareness and whether those effects differ from the effects of multilingualism on children’s development of language awareness. Participants were three- to five-year-old children who were (1) monolingual and from a linguistically homogeneous community, (2) monolingual and from a linguistically diverse community, or (3) multilingual and from a linguistically diverse community. Results from Experiment 1 suggest that community linguistic diversity and multilingualism affect only some aspects of language awareness—specifically language labeling abilities and ability to talk about communicative consequences—but not other aspects of language awareness.
Experiment 2 sought to examine whether brief exposure to one foreign language affects language awareness development—specifically, the aspects of language awareness found to differ by exposure to community linguistic diversity in Experiment 1. Participants were four- and five-year-old children who were monolingual and from a linguistically homogeneous community. Half of these children participated in a brief foreign language exposure intervention, and their language awareness was measured before and after the intervention. Findings from Experiment 2 revealed that brief exposure to a foreign language did not affect any aspect of language awareness development examined in this dissertation and suggest that other aspects of foreign language exposure should be examined in future research.
By examining different types of foreign language experience and different aspects of language awareness, this dissertation begins to elucidate how different language environments and foreign language experiences may have differing effects on specific aspects of language awareness. This dissertation expands on the literature on the effects of diverse language environments on children’s language awareness development, and critically, provides a first step to understanding what aspect of foreign language exposure may be underlying language awareness development.