Bilingual reading developments: cross-linguistic & neuro-behavioral perspectives

Bilingual reading developments: cross-linguistic & neuro-behavioral perspectives

First Author: Ioulia Kovelman -- University of Michigan
Keywords: Bilingualism, Brain development, Morphological Awareness, Poor readers, Comprehension
Abstract / Summary: 

The symposium’s primary objective is to explain the effects of bilingualism and multilingualism on children’s literacy. Literacy is acquired differently across languages. These differences often yield cross-linguistic transfer effects in bilingual learners. How do cross-linguistic differences render bilingual learners different from monolinguals and different across their two languages? Across five distinct studies united by the bilingual lense for evaluating cross-linguistic perspectives on learning to read we used behavioral and brain imaging approaches with language groups that included Spanish, English, French, Chinese, and multilingual learners. The findings revealed bilingual neuro-cognitive transfer effects that rendered bilingual learners different from monolinguals in their oral-language literacy skills. Children who spoke more languages or more distinct languages showed the greatest differences from monolinguals. Nevertheless, investigations of poor bilingual readers revealed similar dual-language (dis)ability profiles among learners of similar as well as distinct orthographies. The findings shed new light on bilingual and cross-linguistic literacy perspectives.

Symposium Papers: 

Neuro-cognitive transfer effects on Morphological processing in Chinese-English bilinguals.

First Author/Chair:Xin Sun -- University of Michigan
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kehui Zhang, Jessica Kim, Zachary Karas, Xiaosu Hu, Tai-Li Chou, Twila Tardif, Ioulia Kovelman

Purpose. Bilingual experiences change the mind and brain. How does bilingual experience with two contrasting orthographies, English and Chinese, influence children’s literacy? To answer this question, we investigated the influence of Chinese bilingualism on children’s emerging neural architecture for reading in English.

Method. Bilingual Chinese-English and monolingual English children (N = 150, ages 6–10) completed morphological awareness tasks that best characterize each of the bilinguals’ languages during fNIRS brain imaging. The children also completed measures of language, literacy, and cognitive abilities, in each of their respective languages.

Result. First, the findings revealed cross-linguistic differences in morphological processing. In Chinese, during the derivation morphology task, the children showed robust frontal activation whereas during the compound morphology task they showed predominantly temporal activation (q < 0.05, FDR corrected). In contrast, in English, all children showed an overall similar pattern of brain activity during the two types of morphological processes. The differences are commensurate with the languages’ structure. Second, the findings revealed principled influences of Chinese on bilinguals’ English. In comparison to English monolinguals, the bilinguals showed stronger frontal activation during the derivational task and stronger temporal activation during the compound task - which is reflective of the morphological distinctions in Chinese (q < 0.05, FDR corrected).

Conclusion: The findings reveal principled cross-linguistic differences in the neural mechanisms of word processing as well as bilingual transfer effects that reflect these differences in young dual-language learners. The findings thus offer new insights to inform bilingual and cross-linguistic models of language and literacy acquisition.

Morphological awareness in English reading: A comparative study of English monolinguals, Spanish-English bilinguals, and Chinese-English bilinguals

First Author/Chair:Rebecca Marks -- University of Michigan
Additional authors/chairs: 
Danielle Labotka, Yuuko Uchikoshi, Fumiko Hoeft, Ioulia Kovelman

Purpose: The goal of reading is to recognize units of meaning (morphemes) in print. Logically, morphological awareness plays a key role in early reading success across languages. However, languages and orthographies represent morphemes differently. For instance, Spanish predominantly uses derivational affixes to create words such as un+break+able, while Chinese relies on compound morphology, akin to snow+man. How might bilingual experience with different morphological structures impact learning to read in English?

Method: 336 children, ages 5-9, participated in our study (mean age = 7.5, SD = 1.3, 52% male). Participants were either monolingual English speakers, Spanish-English bilinguals or Chinese-English bilinguals. All children completed an experimenter-developed measure of derivational and compound morphology in addition to standardized measures of language and literacy.

Result: Hierarchical regressions reveal that both derivational and compound morphology explain unique variance in children’s word reading and reading comprehension across the early grades, above the contributions of age, vocabulary and phonological awareness. Furthermore, we observed a significant interaction between language group and morphological awareness. For Chinese-English bilinguals, greater awareness of derivational morphology made a larger contribution to their reading. On the other hand, for Spanish-English bilinguals, greater awareness of compound morphology made a larger contribution to their word reading.

Conclusion: Findings reveal the influence of bilingual experience with typologically-distinct orthographies on children’s literacy in the dominant language of reading instruction, English. This study informs theoretical perspectives on reading acquisition across multilingual learners, and puts forth a practical tool for studying morphological development in diverse populations.

The use of entropy to characterize individual differences in multilingual experience and their linguistic, literacy and cognitive correlates

First Author/Chair:Olga Kepinska -- University of California San Francisco
Additional authors/chairs: 
Jocelyn Caballero, Julia St John, Stephanie Gee, Yuuko Uchikoshi, Ioulia Kovelman, Fumiko Hoeft

Purpose. Traditionally, studies on bilingual and multilingual literacy acquisition make use of designs in which participants’ language status is treated categorically (i.e., bilinguals versus monolinguals). In this study, we propose a novel way to characterize the complex effects of exposure to multiple languages, where language exposure is treated as a continuous variable.

Method. All 154 kindergartners (Mage=5.68) examined were exposed to English from birth, 11 to English only, and the rest to 2 to 5 languages (Mlanguages=2.5). Capitalizing on extant research into the factors influencing (second) language acquisition, we quantified the number of languages, the proportion of exposure to each language over the course of children’s life, and the degree of overlap between the languages’ lexicons (defined by ‘Levenshtein Distance Normalized Divided’ through the ASJP database). We used Rao’s quadratic entropy to combine these into one index. Higher values of the index represent a less consistent, more linguistically diverse environment.

Results. Our results show that children with greater multilingual experiences had lower English lexical ability (expressive/receptive vocabulary and oral language). It is not however associated with literacy-related measures, including phonological awareness, letter-word identification, and rapid naming, or executive functions.

Conclusions. We conclude that while the degree of multilingualism may impact kindergartener's spoken language abilities in one of their languages, it might not influence literacy and executive function abilities in this language. We will also provide results examining the impact on their second language as well as the neural correlates using neuroimaging in this presentation.

Poor Reading Comprehension in English-French Bilingual Children: A Latent Profile Analysis

First Author/Chair:Diana Burchell -- Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada
Additional authors/chairs: 
Yahua Cheng, Klaudia Krenca, Kathleen Hipfner-Boucher, Stefka Marinova-Todd and Xi Chen

Purpose: Some children with poor reading comprehension have adequate word-level skills but experience difficulties in oral language and higher-level skills. However, few studies have examined profiles of reading comprehension in bilingual children. Non-Francophone Canadian children in French immersion programs speak English in the community and have the same amount of exposure to French limited to the school setting. As such, their language learning context allows us to distinguish developmental deficits from incomplete second language acquisition.

Method: The present study examined reading comprehension profiles in 231 Grade 3 English-French bilinguals in French immersion programs. They received a battery of measures in both languages.

Results: Latent profile analysis conducted in English generated four profiles. Good, average, and poor readers performed above average, at average, and below average on both word reading and reading comprehension, respectively. Notably, a poor comprehender group emerged who had close to average word-level skills but poor reading comprehension. Although poor comprehenders scored higher than poor readers on word reading, the two did not differ on vocabulary, comprehension monitoring, or inferencing, suggesting that deficits in oral language and reading strategies lead to poor comprehension in the former group. Latent profile analysis conducted in French also generated four profiles, with reading comprehension levels consistent with those of word reading across the groups.

Conclusions: Since English is the stronger language for French immersion children, our findings suggest that the poor comprehender profile may first emerge in the stronger language in bilingual children.

The Reading Profiles of Bilingual Children with reading difficulties

First Author/Chair:Miao Li -- University of Houston
Additional authors/chairs: 
Huan Zhang, Poh Wee Koh, Esther Geva, John R. Kirby

The purpose of this study was to compare the reading profiles of three reading subgroups: Typical Readers, Poor Decoders, and Poor Comprehenders, in both English and Chinese, in Chinese-English bilingual students.

Method. The participants were 246 grade 8 students in China. English measures included decoding, vocabulary breadth, vocabulary depth, listening comprehension, inference and strategy, and reading comprehension. Chinese measures included decoding and reading comprehension. Typical Reader, Poor Decoder, and Poor Comprehender groups were defined using latent profile analysis.

Results: 123/129, 74/74, and 49/43 students were identified as Typical Readers, Poor Decoders, and Poor Comprehenders in English and Chinese, separately. The cross-tabulation results showed that the overlaps between Typical Reader and Poor Decoder groups in English and Chinese were high. There was less correspondence between English and Chinese on the Poor Comprehender group. The MANOVA results demonstrated that the Typical Readers outperformed the other two groups on all measures in each language. More interestingly, the English Poor Decoder group performed more poorly than the other two groups on Chinese decoding and the English Poor Comprehender group performed worse than the other two groups on Chinese reading comprehension. A similar pattern was found for the Chinese subgroups.

Conclusion: The Typical Reader and Poor Decoder profiles are more consistent than the Poor Comprehender profile across English and Chinese. The comparison of the reading performance of these subgroups supported the view that the association of L1 and L2 reading difficulties are substantial. Decoding is a universal process across languages to understand reading difficulties.