Bilingual Language Acquisition by Korean Schoolchildren

Bilingual language acquisition by Korean schoolchildren in New York City

Sarah J. Shin & Lesley Milroy

Presented by: Cyndy Gomez


The present study addresses to main topic of bilingual language acquisition in Korean-American children. Specifically researchers were interested in acquisition of grammatical morphemes and plural marking systems. The researchers addressed two main questions: (1) “do L1 and L2 learners acquire the grammatical features of a given language in the same sequence? (2) do L2 learners of different L1 backgrounds learn the grammatical features of a given second language in the same sequence?” (Shin & Milroy, 1999). Previous studies related to acquisition of a second language are reviewed in this article. The most important previous research was conducted by Brown (1973) that found a “common invariant sequence of at least 14 bound morphemes by children learning English as L1”. Studies since them have tried to see whether or not these morphemes are the same for English as L2. Most researchers believe that children and adult learners of L2 are more similar than children learning L1. (Wode, 1976).The most recent debates have been on whether or not L2 learners have access to universal grammar. Rationilist have said that they do not and stated fundamental differences in L1 and L2 acquisition (Felix, 1984,Clahsen 1990,Meisel, 1991).It is not yet clearly known whether or not acquisition of grammatical features for L2 is dependent on L1, and this is what the present study aims to find out. The hypothesis is stated in the questions stated earlier in the introduction.


Twelve Korean first grade children from New York City were used as subjects in this study. Half were male and half were female. Six pairs were made to group two kids together who were on similar levels of proficiency in both English and Korean. The children were all in the same class and each spoke Korean as their native language. Data was recorded through a wireless radio microphone that was located in the classroom. A fieldworker was placed into the classroom as an assistant to be able to record spontaneous speech and to be able to observe the children’s free speech. The audio was recorded in three situations: storytelling, math and play. Only monolingual English data was used. Each recording lasted between 20-75 minutes. The morpheme scoring of Dulay and Burt (1974)were used in this study. 10 obligatory occasions morpheme items were measured in this study (Table 1). The items were scored and a group score was created (Fig. 1). The procedure was then to rank the 10 morphemes in a decreasing group score. A study for plural marking was also conducted. 48 flashcard were used and each flashcard had either a photograph or a colored drawing of an animal or a common object. Each card was presented in a way to manage how children perform plural marking. There was an experimental task (with two stacks of flashcards, one in Korean one in English).The second, a game task, was used to see whether or not use of plural markers was the same in spontaneous speech.


This article examined English grammatical morpheme acquisition in children who’s native Language was Korean. The main finding was that the children were not able to grasp grammar for third person –s, plural – s, and the article. Evidence of plural marking also showed that Korean L1 children do not park for plurals at the time as English L1 children. It comes later in development for them. A clear difference was also found when comparing this study to other morpheme studies in the order of how morphemes are ranked/acquired in English as an L2. When addressing the research question, this research found that there is a difference in how L1 learners of English and L2 learners of English acquire the English grammatical features. The researchers also found that there is in influence on English as L2 depending on what the L1 was. Questions related to universal grammar were not answered. This article is, according to Google Scholar, to be cited 49 times. There were no linked comments or discussions, but the linked cited papers all showed similar research in the field on bilingual language acquisition. I think this study helped to clear the debate of whether or not L1 affects the acquisition of L2, so this study helped guide research in the right direction. This study contributed to the field of bilingual language acquisition by showing that language acquisition patters need to be considered differently for bilingual children.

Table 1

Fig 1

Fig 2

Table 2

Table 3

Table 4


Brown, R. (1973). A First language: The early stages. Harvard University Press.

Clahsen, H. (1990). The comparative study of first and second language development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 12, 135-153.

Dulay, H. C., & Burt, M. K. (1974). Natural sequences in child second language acquisition. Language Learning, 24, 37-53.

Felix, S. W. (1984). Maturational aspects of universal grammar. University Press. 133-61.

Meisel, J. M. (1991). Principles of Universal Grammar and strategies of language use: On some similarities and differences between first and second language acquisition. Universal Grammar in the second language, 231-276.

Wode, H. (1976). Developmental sequences in naturalistic L2 acquisition. Working Papers on Bilingualism, 11, 1- 31.



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