Helping Bilingual Children Develop Phonological Awareness
Building a bilingual child's awareness of phonology—the different ways that oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated—in the child's first language helps the child develop phonological awareness in both languages, according to a Marquette University study in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology [doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2011/10-0063)].
In a study of Spanish-speaking English-language learners, researchers evaluated the impact of short-term phonological awareness (PA) instruction presented in children's first language (Spanish) on gains in their first and second language (English). They also explored the relationships between the children's vocabulary size, verbal working memory, and PA.
The study included 25 kindergartners who received PA instruction and 10 controls. Researchers analyzed the children's PA gains and the relationships between PA gains, Spanish and English vocabulary, and memory. Children in the experimental group experienced significant and equivalent gains in both languages; children in the control group experienced no gains. Spanish vocabulary size was significantly related to PA gains in both languages and was more strongly related than English vocabulary size to English gains.
Results indicate that PA instruction and strong vocabulary skills in an English-language learner's first language benefit first and second languages. Results also indicate dynamic relationships between vocabulary size, storage and processing components of working memory, and PA development in both languages.
Dialect Variation May Predict Reading Achievement
When they begin first grade, do children who speak nonmainstream American English (NMAE) increase their use of mainstream American English? And if they do, is increased use of mainstream English associated with greater gains in reading skills?
Yes, suggest results of a study published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research [doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/09-0257)]. In it, researchers measured spoken production of NMAE forms, word reading, and reading comprehension of 49 children who spoke NMAE moderately to strongly. They took these measurements at the beginning, middle, and end of first and second grades and also measured various oral language skills at the beginning of first grade.
Most of the children increased their MAE production during first grade and maintained these levels in second grade. The children's expressive vocabulary and nonword repetition skills at the beginning of first grade predicted their increasing MAE use. In addition, children with greater increases in MAE production showed greater reading gains from first through second grade.
The study findings extend previous reports of a significant association between NMAE use and reading skills among young children and have implications for theory, educational practice, and future research.
Word-Learning Assessment May Identify Language Impairment
A brief dynamic assessment of word-learning skills may help accurately identify primary language impairment (PLI) in bilingual children. This finding, in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools [doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2011/10-0095)], may help avoid misdiagnosis of PLI in bilingual children, who may simply have had fewer opportunities to learn English than English-speaking monolingual children.
The Arizona State University study included 4- and 5-year-old predominantly Spanish-speaking children, 15 with typical language development and 13 with PLI. Each participated in a 30- to 40-minute dynamic assessment of word-learning skills.
Results indicated that typically developing children made associations between the phonological and semantic representations of the new words—showing greater modifiability—faster than the children with PLI. In addition, a combination of receptive word-learning and measures on a learning strategies checklist provided the best accuracy in identifying PLI. Researchers conclude that a brief dynamic assessment of word-learning skills is a promising method for accurately differentiating children with typical language development from those with primary language impairment in bilingual children.