Language and literacy development of bilingual children from diverse backgrounds

Language and literacy development of bilingual children from diverse backgrounds

First Author: Xi Chen -- University of Toronto
Keywords: English Language Learners (ELL), Bilingualism, Phonological awareness, Vocabulary, Reading comprehension
Abstract / Summary: 

The five papers presented in this symposium focus on language/literacy development of bilingual children. These papers cover a variety of skills: phonological awareness, vocabulary and oral language skills, comprehension monitoring, and reading comprehension. Their participants were primary school students from diverse linguistic contexts: English language learners from mixed first language (L1) backgrounds (Geva & Safronsky) in Canada, Kannada- and Telugu-speaking children in India (Nakamura et al.), and Dutch-speaking children in the Netherlands (Kwakkel et al.). All of these children were learning English as a second language (L2). An additional group was children learning French as the L2 in Canada (Burchell et al.; Krenca et al.). Despite differences in research designs and populations, all studies demonstrate that phonological awareness and oral language skills are important for reading comprehension. On the other hand, by including children from diverse linguistic backgrounds, the papers also reveal unique patterns for language/literacy development in bilinguals.

Symposium Papers: 

The development of reading comprehension and vocabulary in mid-elementary newcomer ELLs and their EL1 peers – Trajectories and predictors

First Author/Chair:Esther Geva -- OISE/University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Emily Safronsky

Purpose: Limited research is available on growth of reading comprehension (RC) and vocabulary, and the relationship between them among ELLs first exposed to English only in middle-school. We investigated RC and vocabulary growth trajectories over 2 years, and the contributions of cognition, language, sociocultural factors in EL1s and in ELLs varying in length of exposure to English (LOE).
Method: The sample consisted of 49 EL1s, and 55 ELLs coming from diverse L1 backgrounds, assessed three times in grades 4-6. The test battery included RC (Gates), word reading tasks, three English vocabulary measures, L1 vocabulary, and cognitive processes.
Results: EL1 and ELL growth on RC and vocabulary was compared using multi-level modeling (MLM). Surprisingly, with steeper RC slopes in the ELL group, by Time 3 ELLs were no longer significantly different from EL1 students on RC. Identical cognitive-linguistic factors - nonverbal reasoning and a composite vocabulary index - predicted RC in both groups. LOE was indirectly related to reading comprehension through vocabulary. There was consistent growth on vocabulary in both groups, but the vocabulary trajectories of ELLs were consistently lower than EL1s’. A direct link between vocabulary and LOE was confirmed at each time. Evidence of marginal transfer between L1 and L2 vocabulary skills was noted only at Time1.
Conclusions: Vocabulary knowledge is an important link between LOE and RC for ELLs. The finding that task demands of different measures of RC and vocabulary vary, and that RC can reach EL1 levels while it stalls in EL1 requires further exploration.

Comprehension monitoring in emerging English-French bilingual children

First Author/Chair:Klaudia Krenca -- OISE/University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kate Cain ; Stefka Marinova-Todd; Xi Chen

Purpose: Approximately five to ten percent of children have reading profiles characterized by average word reading skills but below average reading comprehension. Research has shown that reading comprehension difficulties occur from underlying problems in comprehending language. However, it is difficult to identify poor reading comprehension for children educated in a second language because these children are reading in a language they have not yet mastered orally. The current study examined the development of comprehension monitoring (the proficiency by which readers or listeners reflect on their understanding of speech or written text) among emerging English-French bilingual children.
Method: The participants were enrolled in a four-year longitudinal study designed to investigate language and literacy development among early immersion English-French bilingual children. The analysis includes 150 children in grade two and 87 children in grade three from two cosmopolitan cities in Canada.

Materials: The instrument used to assess comprehension monitoring was an error detection task. This measure assessed children’s ability to detect inconsistencies in orally presented stories by asking children whether a story made sense, and if they answered correctly to this question, they were asked to identify which two segments in the text contradict.

Results: Hierarchical linear regressions revealed that English comprehension monitoring made a unique contribution to French reading comprehension after controlling for age, socioeconomic status, working memory, nonverbal reasoning, decoding, and receptive vocabulary. Longitudinal analyses are in progress.
Significance: Practical implications of the results include engaging children in various reading comprehension strategies (e.g., re-reading parts of the text, asking questions).

Language and reading skills of English-speaking children and English Language Learners in Canadian French immersion

First Author/Chair:Diana Burchell -- OISE/University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Bonita Squires; Patricia Cleave; Janani Selvachandran; Xi Chen

Purpose: This paper examines the language and reading skills of English-speaking children and English Language Learners (ELLs) in French immersion programs in Canada. While extensive research has been conducted on English-speaking children in French immersion programs, much less is known about ELLs who are trilingual in English, French, and their first language.

Methods: Seventy-seven second grade children participated in the study. There were 38 children who only spoke English at home, 15 children who primarily spoke English at home (less than 50% exposure to a minority language), and 24 ELLs (50-100% exposure to a minority language). All children were instructed entirely in French at school. A battery of measures were administered in both English and French, including the Test of Narrative Language (TNL; Gillam & Pearson, 2004), receptive vocabulary, word reading, and reading comprehension.

Results: Results showed that the two English-speaking groups outperformed the ELLs on English receptive vocabulary. However, there were no significant differences on the TNL comprehension and production, word reading or reading comprehension in English. Furthermore, we found no differences among the three groups on any of the French measures.

Conclusion: This study enhances our understanding of language and reading development of ELLs in French immersion programs. The results suggest that discourse measures such as the TNL can be a sensitive way to evaluate the language skills of ELLs. The results also indicate that French immersion is a viable education option for ELLs, at least in terms of developing language and literacy skills in English and French.

The influence of first language Akshara orthography on English spelling development of children from low-income communities in India

First Author/Chair:R. Malatesha Joshi -- Texas A & M University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Pooja Nakamura; Xuejun Ryan Ji; Robin Rackley

Purpose: The purpose of this research was to examine the influence of first language akshara orthography on literacy development in English literacy development among children living in low-income communities in South India. These children are exposed to several spoken languages at home and neighborhoods and are instructed in three languages in schools. Various language and reading measures were administered to approximately 400 students in grades 1-5.

Method: Phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, reading comprehension and listening comprehension measures in English and either in Kannada or Telugu were administered to all the participants.

Results: Results from commonality analyses and quantile regression analyses showed that both phonemic awareness and syllabic awareness contributed to akshara comprehension at earlier grades and phonemic awareness was subsumed by syllabic awareness at later grades in Kannada/Telugu comprehension. The effect of the L1 akshara orthography on L2 English spelling skills was significant; but was dependent on the level of L2 English oral language proficiency, with the cross-linguistic orthographic influence being stronger for students with less English oral language proficiency.

Conclusions: Theoretical and educational implications of the importance of first language orthography on English literacy development as well as mastery of first language skills needed to master the second language spelling in askhara-English biliteracy acquisition will be discussed.

Predicting phonological awareness in Dutch-English bilingual kindergarteners

First Author/Chair:Hedi Kwakkel -- The Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Mienke Droop; Eliane Segers ; Ludo Verhoeven

Purpose: Bilingual primary education is new in The Netherlands. It practices the unique situation in which English is taught 50% of the time, which is regarded a prestigious language, but is not a national language (in contrast to e.g. immersion education in Canada). We investigated how executive functions and linguistic skills predicted phonological awareness in children in bilingual Dutch/English Kindergarten versus children in regular Dutch kindergarten.
Method: 128 children in bilingual Kindergarten and 97 children in regular Dutch Kindergarten
(Mage: 4.91) were tested on: phonological awareness, vocabulary, lexical specificity, non-verbal reasoning, inhibitory control, memory, and sustained attention. The linguistic measures were assessed in English and Dutch in the bilingual groups, and in Dutch only in the regular groups.
Results: The bilingual and regular groups did not differ on any of the Dutch variables. Regression analysis showed that Dutch phonological awareness in both groups was predicted by inhibitory control (β=.258; p<.001) and memory (β=.255; p<.001). English phonological awareness in the bilingual group was predicted by Dutch phonological awareness (β=.844; p<.001) only. Executive functions had an indirect effect on English phonological awareness via Dutch phonological awareness.
Conclusion: No apparent benefit or disadvantage on Dutch language level for children in bilingual Kindergarten was found. All children benefited from a high level of executive functioning (memory and inhibitory control) in order to develop a strong sense of Dutch phonological awareness. For English phonological awareness, a transfer from Dutch to English was evidenced.