Child Language Lab


Lab Director
Luigi Girolametto, PhD

Luigi Girolametto is a Professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology. He teaches child language intervention.  Current research in his Child Language Lab focuses on (a) parent-focused language intervention, (b) the development of emergent literacy skills in preschoolers and (c) language acquisition in bilingual preschoolers.  He is currently collaborating with Prof. Cristina Caselli on a language screening project at  Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione, CNR (Rome) and with Dr. Elina Mainela-Arnold (University of Turku, Finland) on indicators of language disorders in bilingual children.

Luigi Girolametto è un professore ordinario nel dipartimento di Speech-Language Pathology all’Università di Toronto (Canada). Insegna corsi sull’intervento per bambini con problemi di linguaggio. I temi di ricerca del Child Language Lab sono (a) l’intervento genitore-bambino, (b) lo sviluppo precoce dell’alfabetizazione , e (c) l’acquisizione del linguaggio in bambini in età prescolare. Luigi sta collaborando con Prof. Cristina Caselli su un progetto di screening al Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione al CNR di Roma. Inoltre, sta lavorando con Prof. Elina-Mainela Arnold (Università di Turku, Finlandia) sugli indicatori del ritardo del linguaggio in bambini bilingui .


Statistical Learning in Bilingual Children (funded by SSHRC)

This study is lead by Dr. Elina Mainela-Arnold, formerly of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology, University of Toronto. Currently, she is Professor at the Department of Psychology and Speech-Language Pathology, University of Turku, Finland. Dr. Luigi Girolametto is a co-investigator. Collaborators include: Dr. Carol Miller, Dr. Daniel Weiss, Dr. Janet VanHell (Pennsylvania State University) and Mr. David Haffner (Toronto District School Board).

A large number of children in Canada and around the world enter school speaking a language other than the language used for instruction. A traditional approach to assessing age appropriateness of language abilities relies on comparison of students’ language abilities to monolingual norms. These norms are typically available to educators in the language of instruction, which is often the bilingual students’ second language (L2). In many cases, the norms are not available for bilingual students’ home language or first language (L1). Image result for bilingualismEven when available, monolingual norms are often not an appropriate point of reference for the various contexts these bilingual experience students come from. This makes it difficult to determine whether or not students’ abilities are primarily influenced by differences in bilingual exposure, and which students are at risk of language learning difficulties. Thus, school personnel are faced with a serious obstacle in determining what services, if any, a child needs in order to succeed academically. This research will address that obstacle by investigating whether performance on tasks that do not involve use of language, namely statistical learning tasks, can be used to predict dual language abilities independent of the degree of bilingual language exposure. Such tasks could be used to predict individual differences in dual language ability regardless of the languages spoken by the child.

Parent-focused Intervention for Late Talkers (CNR, Rome, Italy)

Oltre il Libro PictureThis study is being conducted in collaboration with Cristina Caselli, Director of LaCAM Lab, Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, CNR. Collaborators include: Arianna Bello (University of Parma), Daniela Onofrio (CNR, Rome), and Lorena Remi (ASL Mantova). The six-week intervention program was written and designed for Italian families whose children were identified by screening programs as having delayed vocabulary development. The program focuses on shared book reading and incorporates key language teaching strategies, such as focused stimulation and recasting. The program has been field-tested in Mantova and the parent/professional guidebook has been submitted for publication by Erickson in Italian: Oltre il libro (Girolametto, Bello, Onofrio, Remi, Caselli, in press). Data from two parent programs (and corresponding no-treatment control groups) are being prepared for journal submission.

Cantonese-English Language Learners (funded by SSHRC)

One current focus of research in the Child Language Lab is an exploration of second language learning patterns in sequential bilingual children who speak a Chinese language (i.e. Cantonese) in the home. This study is funded by a SSHRC grant awarded to Luigi Girolametto and Adriana Belletti (Università di Siena, Italy).

Former research coordinator, Katy Mak, along with several research assistants, has collected data from over 50 children in Junior and Senior Kindergarten who speak primarily Cantonese at home.

An analysis of this data will be used to profile typical English language development in Cantonese-speaking children. Studying the language development of these children and their error patterns will provide information on the specific stages that second language learners go through as they acquire a second language. This can help distinguish these typical error patterns, known as language difference (Kohnert, 2010), from language learning difficulties due to language disorder, which are more pervasive and longer-term. Difficulties stemming from language disorder can have a serious impact on the future academic achievement and social-emotional development of both monolingual and bilingual children (e.g., Beitchman et al., 2001; Johnson et al., 1999), but it is hypothesized that there may be overlap between characteristics of language difference and language disorder (Paradis, 2010). Therefore, knowledge of typical error patterns and their resolution over time is critically important for educators, speech-language pathologists, and other professionals who work with young children.

Examining the learning patterns of sequential bilingual children who are acquiring a second language may also provide a window into the workings of the mind, yielding information about how morphology and syntax are organized and acquired.  In addition, the patterns of linguistic influence of a first language (i.e. Cantonese) to the learning of a second language (English) may inform linguistic theory about universal and specific features of languages and how these languages influence each other in sequential bilingual children.

Emergent Literacy Study (funded by SSHRC)

Another area of emphasis in the Child Language Lab is emergent literacy. The emergent literacy research undertaken in Luigi’s lab is funded by a SSHRC grant awarded to Luigi Girolametto, Elaine Weitzman (The Hanen Centre), Janette Pelletier (Jackman Institute for Child Studies), and Janice Greenberg (The Hanen Centre). Emergent literacy includes a wide array of skills that children develop before conventional reading is learned, such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, print concepts, narrative awareness, oral vocabulary, and abstract language. The development of these skills prepares young children for formal reading instruction, which is critical for their future academic and social success.

Data from over 120 children in Junior and Senior Kindergarten has been collected and analyzed. The children come from diverse socioeconomic and linguistic backgrounds, reflecting Toronto’s multicultural and varied nature.

These data have been used to examine the efficacy of a professional development program for early childhood educators. The program aims to improve the emergent literacy skills of preschool children using ABC and Beyond, a trademarked program of The Hanen Centre, in which an SLP trains educators how to facilitate emergent literacy skills in their classrooms.

For results, see publications below.


Milburn, T., Hipfner-Boucher, K., Weitzman, E., Greenberg, J., Pelletier, J., & Girolametto, L. (in press). Cognitive, linguistic and print-related predictors of preschool children`s word spelling and name writing. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.

Rezzonico, S., Hipfner-Boucher, K., Milburn, T., Weitzman, E., Greenberg, J., Pelletier, J., & Girolametto, L. (in press). Improving Preschool Educators’ Shared Book Reading Practices: Effects of coaching in professional development. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Rezzonico, S., Goldberg, A., Mak, K., Yap, S., Milburn, T., Belletti, A., & Girolametto, L. (2016). Narratives in Two Languages: Storytelling of Bilingual Cantonese–English Preschoolers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59,  521-532.

Katz, E. & Girolametto, L. (2015). Peer-mediated intervention for pre-schoolers with ASD: Effects on responses and initiations. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17, 6, 565-576.

Girard, L. & Girolametto, L. (2015). Fostering children’s alphabet knowledge at school entry through engagement in family literacy activities. Children`s Research Digest, 2(2), 72-79.

Rezzonico, S; Chen, X.; Cleave, P.; Greenberg, J.; Hipfner-Boucher, K.;Johnson, C.; Milburn, T.; Pelletier, J.; Weitzman, E. & Girolametto, L. (2015). Oral Narratives in Monolingual and Bilingual Children Preschoolers with SLI. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 50(6), 830-841.

Milburn, T., Hipfner-Boucher, K., Greenberg, J., Weitzman, E., Pelletier, J., & Girolametto, L. (2015). Effects of coaching on educators’ and preschoolers’ use of references to print and phonological awareness during a small group craft/writing activity. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools, 46(2), 94-111.

Namasivayam, A., Hipfner-Boucher, K., Milburn, T., Greenberg, J., Weitzman, E., Pelletier, J., & Girolametto, L. (2015). Effects of coaching on educators’ vocabulary-teaching strategies during shared reading. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17(4), 346-356.

Hipfner-Boucher, K., Milburn, T., Greenberg, J., Weitzman, E., Pelletier, J., & Girolametto, L. (2015). Narrative abilities in subgroups of English Language Learners and monolingual peers. International Journal of Bilingualism, 19(6), 677-692.

Stich, M., Girolametto, L., Johnson, C. J., Cleave, P.L. & Chen, X. (2015). Contextual effects on the conversations of mothers and their children with SLI. Applied Psycholinguistics, 36, (2), 323-344.

Levickis, P., Reilly, S., Girolametto, L., Obioha, U., & Wake, M. (2014). Maternal behaviors that promote early language acquisition in slow-to-talk toddlers: Prospective community-based study. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 35, (4), 274-281.

Hipfner-Boucher, K., Milburn, T., Greenberg, J., Weitzman, E., Pelletier, J., & Girolametto, L. (2014). Relationships between preschoolers’ oral language and phonological awareness. First Language, 34(2), 178-197.

Milburn, T., Girolametto, L., Weitzman, E., & Greenberg, J. (2014). Enhancing preschool educators’ ability to facilitate conversations during shared book reading. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 14(1), 105-140.


Girolametto, L., Bello, A., Onofrio, D., & Caselli, M.C. (In preparation, 2016). Parent-coaching per l’intervento precoce sul linguaggio: Percorsi di lettura dialogica nel programma “Oltre il Libro”. Trento, Italy: Erickson.

Bonifacio, S., Girolametto, L., & Montico, M. (2013). Le Abilità Socio-Conversazionali del Bambino: Questionario e Dati Normativi dal 12 ai 36 mesi d’età. Milano, Italy: FrancoAngeli.

Bonifacio, S. Montico, M., & Girolametto, L. (2013). Lo sviluppo delle abilità socio-conversazionali del bambino dai 12 ai 36 mesi. [The development of social conversational skills in children from 12-36 months of age.] Quaderni acp [Journal of Pediatrics, Italy], 20(6), 248-251.

Bonifacio, S., Girolametto, L., Bruno, M. (2012). Come conversano i bambini a 12, 18, e 24 mesi? Quaderni acp, 19(5), 200-203.

Bonifacio, S. & Girolametto, L. (2007). Abilità socio-conversazionali in un gruppo di bambini parlatori tardivi sottoposti ad un intervento precoce. Psichiatria dell’Infanzia e dell’Adolescenza, 7(3), 547-558.

Bonifacio, S., Girolametto, L., Bulligan, M., Callegari, M., Vignola, S., Zocconi, E. (2007). Assertive and responsive conversational skills of Italian-speaking late talkers. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 42 (5), 607-623.

Bonifacio, S., & Girolametto, L. (2005). Applicazione clinica del questionario Le Abilità Socio-Conversazionali Del Bambino. Psichiatria dell’Infanzia e dell”Adolescenza, 72, 583-595.

Girolametto, L., Bonifacio, S., Visini, C., Weitzman, E., Zocconi, E., & Pearce, P. S. (2002). Mother-child interactions in Canada and Italy: Linguistic responsiveness to late-talking toddlers. International Journal of Communication and Language Disorders, 37, 153-171.