Trilingual Preschool Children’s Cognitive Understanding of Mouth Action Verbs in Chinese, English and Malay


This paper explores how Malaysian Chinese children acquire word concepts in the Chinese language with the “interference” from the English and Malay languages. We selected eight commonly used Chinese eating and drinking verbs (吃 “eat”, 喝 “drink”, 咬 “bite”, 吸 “suck”, 嚼 “chew”, 吞 “swallow”, 啃 “nibble”, 舔 “lick”) for this study and tested 80 preschool children aged between 5;0.4 and 6;10.4 (Mean: 5.92) for their cognitive understanding of word meaning, word use and the characteristics of their acquisition as well as their perception and functional use of the word counterparts in English and Malay. Visual stimuli of action verbs were used for the testing. The results in general show that children’s eating and drinking verb use and other related word production reflected their life experience. In other words, children acquire language and their cognitive skills through experience in life. This accords with Gao’s (2001, 2015) view that children’s perception and cognition for the understanding of human physical actions in relation to linguistic expressions are achieved and conceptualized through imitation and experience. We also found that children’s cognitive skills and trilingual proficiencies are closely related to their family background and social environment. The scope of this study was not big enough to cover all situations of 5-to-6-year-old trilingual children in Malaysia, but the results could be viewed as a reflection of the general trend of trilingual development in children and may serve as a reference for educators and parents in their teaching and parenting trilingual children.

Author Information
Hui Jie Yap, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Helena Hong Gao, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Paper Information
Conference: ACL2021
Stream: Language Acquisition

This paper is part of the ACL2021 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Yap H., & Gao H. (2021) Trilingual Preschool Children’s Cognitive Understanding of Mouth Action Verbs in Chinese, English and Malay ISSN: 2435-7030 – The Asian Conference on Language 2021: Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon