That’s hard! Item difficulty and word characteristics for bilinguals with and without developmental language disorder

Stephanie McMillen, Jissel B. Anaya, Elizabeth D. Peña, Lisa M. Bedore, Elisa Barquin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Research has investigated how lexical-semantic and participant factors impact word learning in young children and adults. However, limited information pertaining to expressive vocabulary development exists for school-aged bilinguals—particularly those with developmental language disorder (DLD). Cross-linguistic differences in the semantic characteristics of words may impact the types of cues available for constructing expressive vocabulary knowledge. To address this gap, we evaluated the relationships between intrinsic factors (age, language ability), extrinsic factors (L1 exposure), and word characteristics (e.g. imageability, concreteness) with item difficulty and expressive vocabulary knowledge in school-aged Spanish-English bilinguals with and without DLD. While we found similar patterns of associations between item difficulty and word characteristics across language ability groups, divergent predictive patterns emerged across languages and across ability groups. Educators supporting the development of bilingual students’ expressive vocabulary knowledge must account for not only cultural differences across students, but also characteristics inherent to words.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1838-1856
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022


  • Bilingualism
  • developmental language disorder
  • expressive vocabulary
  • intrinsic and extrinsic factors
  • item difficulty
  • word characteristics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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