Characteristics of ESL Child Participants

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Amount of Exposure to English
Age of Arrival
Characteristics of Children with Language Impairment
Family Size
First Language Background
Language Used at Home
Socioeconomic Background

Our sample included 246 participants. There were 218 children in the typically-developing group and 28 children in the language-impaired group. This page provides specific information about the participants' linguistic environment at home, overall development, and language characteristics.

Please review this information before using any CHESL resources on identification of language impairment. This is because it is important to understand whether the ESL children in this study are an appropriate comparison group for an individual ESL child that you wish to assess. For the most reliable assessment outcome, an ESL child ought to match many of the characteristics below.


  • The typically-developing children ranged in age from 5;0 to 6;11 (years;months).
  • The mean age was 5;10 (SD = 7 months).
  • Our sample included:
    • 131 five-year-olds
    • 87 six-year-olds
  • The children with language impairment ranged in age from 4;10 to 9;01.
  • The mean age was 5;10 (SD = 12 months).

Amount of Exposure to English

Exposure to English was calculated based on time spent in an English language preschool or primary school program, either regular part-time or full-time. English spoken at home was not included in this measure.

  • The typically-developing children ranged in exposure to English from 4 to 40 months.
  • Their mean exposure to English was 18 months (SD = 10 months).
  • The children with language impairment ranged in exposure to English from 7 to 73 months.
  • Their mean exposure to English was 27 months (SD = 16 months).

For information on how to calculate a child's English exposure, see Calculating Exposure to English.

Age of Arrival

Our sample includes a similar number of Canadian-born and foreign-born children.

  • Canadian born: 54%
  • Foreign born: 46%
    • Average age of arrival was 3;6 (years;months), (SD = 18 months; range = 0;6 months to 7;2)

Our analyses revealed that amount of exposure to English as defined above was more influential for children's performance on English language measures than age of arrival.

Characteristics of Children with Language Impairment

The ESL children with language impairment were referred to our study from caseloads of speech-language pathologists or special education programs where speech-language pathologists were members of the education team. All children had undergone speech-language assessments, although the particular tests and protocols used varied depending on the program and region.

All ESL children with language impairment had abilities in English well below age-expectations for monolinguals, and also had some delay and difficulties in their first language, according to parent report. Teacher and speech-language pathologist judgement also indicated that these children seemed to be acquiring English with more difficulty than other ESL children. Children all had non-verbal IQs above 75 (most had IQs above 85), no frank neurological damage, no autism symptoms, no hearing impairment and no significant phonological difficulties. In other words, the children had primary language impairment, and not language impairment arising from other deficits or syndromes (e.g., autism).

Family Size

  • The average family had 3 children (SD = 1.2, range = 1-7)
  • 48% of the children were first born
  • 16% of the children were the only child in their family at the time of testing

First Language Background

The children in the sample spoke one of the languages listed below as their first language. These languages are spoken frequently by ESL children in this age range in Canada and represent typologically different linguistic groups.

  • Cantonese or Mandarin (N = 81)
  • Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi (N = 81)
  • Arabic (N = 41)
  • Spanish or Portuguese (N = 36)

In addition, 7 children with language impairment had different first language backgrounds (Vietnamese, Somali, and Assyrian).

Language Use at Home

Children in this sample were exposed exclusively or primarily to their first language during infancy and the toddler years. At the time of testing (when most of the children were between 5 and 6 years old), the families varied in how much English was spoken in their home.

Through a parental questionnaire, information was gathered on language use among family members in the home at the time of testing. For more information, see the information on the Alberta Language Environment Questionnaire.

The amount of English used averaging across all family members in the home varied greatly. The range was 0%-95%. On average, English was used 36% in the homes (SD = 23%).

Socioeconomic Background

Children were from both immigrant and refugee families, mainly from the former. Income information was not collected from the families, but information on parents' levels of education was. The data below indicate that, on average, mothers had 14 years of education and fathers had 15 years of education. Twelve years of education corresponds to the end of secondary school in most systems, so on average, parents in this sample had more than a secondary school education, although there is a great range of education levels within the sample.

Parental Education in Years


Standard Deviation


% Completed Post-secondary











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