Consequences of late bilingualism for novel word learning: evidence from Tamil-English bilingual speakers

Vishnu K K Nair*, Britta Biedermann, Lyndsey Nickels

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Aims and objectives: Recent studies that have investigated novel word learning have demonstrated an advantage for bilinguals compared to monolinguals. The study reported here sought to explore whether a word learning advantage is revealed only for early bilinguals with comparable proficiency in both their languages, or whether such advantages are also observed in individuals with relatively late experience of, and less proficiency in, a second language. Methodology: We tested the acquisition of novel words in an unknown language using identification and naming tasks in three groups of 20 participants: monolingual Tamil speakers; early Tamil–English bilingual speakers; and late Tamil–English bilingual speakers. Data and analysis: The data was analysed using a non-parametric Kruskal–Wallis test followed by linear regressions. Findings: The results showed a bilingual advantage for word learning as evidenced by superior performance in both the naming and identification tasks and, critically, late bilinguals outperformed monolinguals. Originality: The results of the present study revealed, for the first time, a bilingual advantage in word learning even when individuals acquire their second language later in life. Significance: The results suggest that the positive effects of bilingualism may generalise beyond non-linguistic tasks, perhaps affecting a general language learning mechanism. Moreover, this seems to occur even in late bilingualism. This is in contrast to the reported effects on cognitive control mechanisms that show only weaker advantages for individuals who learned a second language later in life.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)473-487
    Number of pages15
    JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


    • late bilingual advantage
    • Late bilingualism
    • novel word learning
    • phonological memory
    • socio-economic status


    Dive into the research topics of 'Consequences of late bilingualism for novel word learning: evidence from Tamil-English bilingual speakers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this