sharon unsworth


Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition

Department of English Language and Culture

Department of Linguistics

Centre for Language Studies

Radboud University Nijmegen

+31 24 3612903

s dot unsworth
at let dot ru dot nl


We’re currently looking for a PhD student and a post-doc as part of my VIDI project. See projects page for more details.

research interests

My research focuses on the linguistic development of bilingual children, the role of various factors affecting bilingual and second language acquisition, and how a bilingual’s two languages interact. What I want to find out is which factors contribute to the successful acquisition of two (or more) languages in childhood. I work on child second language acquisition in both naturalistic and instructed settings and my recent work has focussed on the following populations: children acquiring two languages (English/Dutch, Italian/Dutch) from birth or soon thereafter, children acquiring Dutch as a second language at preschool (voorschool and peuterspeelzalen), bilingual and trilingual children attending bilingual nursery programmes, and Dutch-speaking children learning English at primary school.

Much of my work adopts a comparative approach, contrasting the developmental paths, error types and ultimate attainment of different learner populations: simultaneous and successive bilingual children, second language children and adults, bilingual and monolingual children, as well as bilingual children with different language combinations. I am interested in addressing the methodological challenges such cross-group comparisons involve and to this end, I have tried to develop tools to facilitate such comparisons, including a proficiency measure for children and adults, and a digital parental questionnaire, BiLEC (Bilingual Language Experience Calculator) which can be used to automatically calculate amount and type of language exposure for children growing up with more than one language. BiLEC is free to download from the online digital instrument repository IRIS.

My research examines the acquisition of morphosyntax , syntax-semantics, and vocabulary, including specific target language properties such as grammatical gender, word order, subject-verb agreement and direct object scrambling. Typically, I make use of offline procedures such as elicited production, grammaticality judgement and truth value judgement tasks, as well as a range of standardised language assessment tests. In a new project, I will start using online techniques to explore bilingual acquisition. 

I am passionate about transmitting scientifically-grounded information about bilingualism and bilingual children to parents, teachers and teacher trainees, and other interested parties. To find out more, click here.