PhD Studentship: Trajectories of speech acquisition in bilingual children

United Kingdom
Nov 07, 2017
Jan 24, 2018
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

Children with speech difficulties form a significant proportion of Speech and Language Therapists’ caseload (Dockrell, Ricketts, & Lindsay, 2012). There is sound evidence that those children are at a high risk to develop literacy deficits if their speech difficulties are not treated. To provide adequate support for speech impaired bilingual children is challenging due to a lack of bilingual assessment tools and normative data (in particular longitudinal studies). In addition, data collection is complex since external factors such as language type and language exposure need consideration. Therefore, carefully collected bilingual speech data for language combinations present in the UK (e.g. English-Polish, English-Portuguese) is needed to reliably identify children with speech disorders and provide intervention to reduce long-term difficulties (Law et al., 2000).

The PhD-project aims to design a linguistically and psychometrically sound speech assessment and to collect concurrent and longitudinal data on English-Polish/Portuguese bilingual children (or another language combination found in the UK). Children will be recruited when they are 2;05 to 4;05 years and will be followed up twice in six months intervals. In addition, data on language exposure (including language input, language production, and language proficiency) and psycholinguistic assessments of underlying speech processing skills will supplement the dataset in order to enhance our understanding of typical bilingual speech development and identify potential clinical markers for detecting speech sound disorders in this population.

The assessment tool will consider language specific and cross-linguistic aspects (such as transfer effects and word frequencies) to allow for a detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis of speech.
Considering a usage-based approach (Bybee, 2001, Pierrehumbert, 2001), data on language use and exposure (collected via questionnaires and semi-structured interviews) will account for socio-linguistic parameters which shape speech acquisition and allow a more comprehensive understanding of the acquisition process.

The outcomes from psycholinguistic speech processing tasks (such as nonword repetition, nonword discrimination tasks) offer valuable insights into more cognitive processes which underlie speech development and complement the linguistic analysis of speech production. Together they have the potential to provide a good basis for identifying children at risk for speech sound disorders. The longitudinal perspective will enhance our understanding of intra-individual differences and developmental trajectories.

Overall, the project will contribute to an under-researched area and help professionals working with children help to identify those in need for speech intervention. Thus, the research is timely and is both theoretically and clinically important.

If you have any questions about the project or are planning to submit an application, please contact one of the supervisors (Dr Silke Fricke: or Dr Blanca Schaefer:


Funding Notes

The Faculty Scholarships for Medicine, Dentistry & Health cover fees and stipend at Home/EU level. Overseas students may apply but will need to fund the fee differential between Home and Overseas rate from another source.



Eligibility Requirements

The PhD is particularly suited to candidates with an academic background in Speech and Language Therapy and Applied Linguistics. Candidates from other relevant background such as Psychology and Education are also welcome to apply. However, all candidates’ skillset should include the following: a) knowledge of speech development and disorders in monolingual and/or bilingual children, b) knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabetic including transcription skills, c) experience of working with children, d) experience of working with and conducting assessments with young children. The successful candidate would need to travel regularly to children’s homes, nurseries etc. for data collection purposes.


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