Tanja Rinker Theresa Bloder Kathleen Plotner

Italian and German lexical development in Italian heritage speakers in kindergarten and elementary school settings

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Language development in children with a heritage language background is often characterized by a shift towards the majority language once children enter formal educational contexts. In Germany, educational programs that target heritage languages are scarce. It is therefore of interest whether children with a heritage language background can benefit from a bilingual program targeting their heritage language. In this paper, we report data on the lexical skills of Italian heritage children in two educational contexts, bilingual Italian-German kindergartens and a bilingual Italian-German elementary school. We examine (1) developmental trajectories of children’s lexical skills in German and Italian, (2) differences between noun and verb development, (3) differences between lexical production and comprehension using the Cross-Linguistic Lexical Task (CLT). Comparing German and Italian, kindergarteners showed balanced receptive vocabulary skills. By contrast, elementary school-children had a larger German than Italian vocabulary. Both groups demonstrated a clear dominance of nouns over verbs. While school children already performed at ceiling in German at the end of first grade, across the school years, their Italian vocabulary increased, nouns in particular.


  • Italian heritage language
  • lexical development
  • bilingual Italian- German education


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