Schlagwort-Archive: early childhood

Fostering active trilingualism in early childhood

Parents who bring up their children with three languages are often faced with many questions, especially when they hope that their children will be able to use all those languages actively. Although family situations are often similar at first glance, some children exposed to three languages from birth become active trilinguals while others do not. Chevalier’s case studies shed some light on the correlations between contextual factors and levels of active trilingualism. She examined the language development of two children from the ages of two to four, who have been exposed to Swiss German, French and English from infancy. Elliot lives in French-speaking Switzerland and Lina lives in the German-speaking part. The parents in both families speak English to each other and their respective native language to the child. Chevalier interviewed the parents and made recordings of interactions with the children. By the end of the study, Elliot had attained high levels of active trilingualism whereas Lina was not able to use all three languages actively. So the question arises: How can these differences be explained?

In her comparison of the two families Chevalier reveals that Elliot benefitted from his parents’ consistent and exclusive use of the minority languages (English and German) and from his father’s conversational style that included instructions to translate and repeat. The father also rephrased sentences in German when Elliot mixed languages. Although he had the least input in German, Elliot spoke fluent Swiss German with his father. Moreover, his home languages were supported by various people (e.g. relatives).

Lina, on the other hand, had very unbalanced input. German represented the dominant language inside and outside the home. She did not have a variety of contacts in her minority languages apart from those with her English-speaking aunt. Furthermore, her father was the least consistent in speaking his native language and did not insist on her speaking French. Yet one finding deserves particular attention: Lina spoke considerably more, as well as more proficient, English than French despite having fewer interactions in English. Chevalier attributes this to the intensive and instructional conversation style of her English-speaking aunt, comparable to that of Elliot’s father.

In sum, active promotion of minority languages and reducing space for the majority language can foster high levels of active trilingualism in early childhood. However, research in this field is still rather scarce and with an alteration of input factors in later childhood language development might change.

Sara Romano

Chevalier, S. (2015). Trilingual Language Acquisition. Contextual Factors Influencing Active Trilingualism in Early Childhood. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Diagnosing specific language impairment (SLI) in bilingual children: A study from Utrecht

Research suggests that bilingual children who speak one language at home and another in school are frequently misdiagnosed when a language delay is suspected. What exactly causes this delay? Is it insufficient exposure to the language of schooling? Or should other child-internal factors, such as specific language impairment (SLI), be considered?

To improve diagnosis, a newly developed test was scrutinized by researchers in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. Known as a ‘non-word repetition task’ (NWRT), this test contains a list of non-existing words that children have to read aloud within two minutes. Because these words are non-existing, children cannot possibly rely on their own memory or recognition of words. This gives researchers insight into the real technical reading skills of the child and is therefore considered a reliable tool in diagnosing language impairments such as SLI.

One drawback of the NWRT for bilingual children is that the non-words are based on the language of schooling, which can be too limiting when testing children who speak another language in the home. Hence, for the newly developed test, researchers tried to design ‘quasi-universal’ non-words instead of language-specific ones. These non-existing words contain features of many languages and are designed to test the reading and pronunciation skills of speakers of different languages.

It is, however, very challenging to design a test that is independent of specific language. This study from Utrecht examined whether the researchers had indeed succeeded in doing so and thereby developing a more accurate tool for diagnosing bilinguals with specific language impairment.

They used a large group of 5-6 year olds, divided into smaller groups of monolinguals and bilinguals, including those displaying typical language development and those with SLI. The children were asked to complete both types of NWRT: the language-specific and ‘quasi-universal’ test. The study showed the success of developing quasi-universal non-words as this test was more accurate in diagnosing language impairment in bilingual children. While bilinguals’ performance in the two types of test was shown to be different, the monolingual children performed almost the same on both tests.

This newly developed test has only been scrutinized in the Dutch context and further testing across other languages is required. Yet the key take-home message is that this quasi-universal NWRT has great potential in diagnosing SLI as the source of linguistic delay in bilingual children.

Anouk Ticheloven

Boerma, T., Chiat, S., Leseman, P., Timmermeister, M., Wijnen, F., & Blom, E. (2015). A Quasi-Universal Nonword Repetition Task as a Diagnostic Tool for Bilingual Children Learning Dutch as a Second Language. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research58, 1747-1760.