Schlagwort-Archive: study

Young multilinguals close the gap with monolinguals in English-language competencies – Findings from an Australian longitudinal study

Multilingualism and language impairment have been considered risk factors for children’s linguistic and academic development. However, the effects of multilingualism remain contested. Some studies also report positive effects deriving from multilingualism, such as an increase in metacognitive and metalinguistic skills. McLeod et al. aimed to contribute to understanding the role of multilingualism in student’s academic development by investigating the interface between multilingual status and speech and language impairment. In this longitudinal study of ca. 5,000 children in Australia, they analyse whether differences in academic achievement in the majority language English persist or disappear over time and schooling between different groups of pupils.

The following four groups of children were identified and compared for the study: (1) English only with typical speech and language development, (2) multilingual with typical speech and language development, (3) English only with speech and language concern and (4) multilinguals with speech and language concern.

Multilingual status was established by enquiring whether the child speaks or hears a language other than English at home. Speech and language impairment was determined by parent-reported concern about their child’s expressive and receptive speech. Language competencies and academic outcomes were measured at three points in time using different methods: English vocabulary at the ages of 4-5 (before school), academic abilities in literacy and numeracy at the ages of 6-7 and 8-9 years.

The authors showed that, among the 4-5 age cohort, multilingual children (with typical speech and language concern) performed more poorly on measures of English vocabulary than their English-only peers (with typical speech and language development). However, there was no difference between these groups in academic outcomes at ages 6-7 or 8-9 – at which points, all children were attending school.  Academic outcomes at those points appeared to relate more to the presence (or not) of a reported language impairment at age 4-5, and not to multilingual status. Overall, the results show that while differences in the majority language English between monolinguals and multilinguals still existed at ages 4-5, this gap had closed by ages of 6-7 and 8-9.

The reasons for these improvements may be that the multilingual children had time to continue their English language acquisition, and they may have received targeted services to support their English.

Antje Hansen

McLeod, S., Harrison, L., Whiteford, C. & Walker, S. (2016). Multilingualism and speech-language competence in early childhood: impact on academic and social-emotional outcomes at school. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 34, 53-66.

What can we learn from immigrant students’ use of digital media?

It goes without saying that digital media now feature in almost all aspects of our daily lives. Not limited by national borders, they can open up new opportunities to develop language, literacy and social skills in globally relevant ways. In this regard, immigrant students have resources that are crucial to learning in the 21st century. Eva Lam argues that their digital practices must therefore be understood and leveraged in formal education settings.

Lam confirms that immigrant students in the US mostly use digital media for communication and for retrieving information. They communicate with peers and family in the US as well as in their countries of origin. They also access news from the US, their native countries and other parts of the world. Not only do students use several languages in these online activities, but they also broaden their perspectives on current events by having access to various resources.

Lam refers to a project conducted in a US high school with immigrant students and their peers on multimedia storytelling. Students gathered documents on immigration policy from different sources, interviewed members of their own communities regarding immigration experiences, and created a video documentary to show to others. Participating students could draw on their language skills, digital networks and access to different resources in the process of learning. Moreover, their linguistic and media literacy skills were acknowledged and valued as part of the exercise. By immigrant students having access to numerous linguistic, social and cultural contexts, other students gain insights into different societies and media reporting. Students in the classroom can discuss problems and issues from all over the world from different points of view including the local, national and transnational. Immigrant students in particular can be shown that their multilingual and media literacy skills are appreciated and can be encouraged to use and deepen them.

Lilian Kreimann

Lam, W. S. E. (2012). What immigrant students can teach us about new media literacy. Phi Delta Kappan 94:4 (December 2012/January 2013), 62-65.

Testing the boundaries between creole languages and colonial languages: The case of Palenquero and Spanish in Colombia

Creole languages develop when speakers of indigenous languages are compelled to adopt more powerful colonial languages. They are hybrids that combine aspects of both indigenous and colonial languages. In the Americas, for example, creoles emerged as colonial languages such as English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch were forced on native populations whose use of the colonial languages was heavily influenced by their own indigenous languages.

Palenquero is a creole language which is based on Spanish, Portuguese-creole and African languages (particularly Kikongo) and spoken in Colombia. Today, Palenquero exists alongside Spanish, and most Palenquero speakers are bilingual, using both languages in a variety of situations. Palenquero speakers also mix both languages within the same situation, although code-mixing is frowned upon within the community. Lipski and his research team set out to determine whether Palenquero speakers set boundaries between their languages or whether this code-mixing can be attributed to the process of ‘decreolization’, whereby the creole language loses the characteristics of the indigenous language and becomes more like the colonial language upon which it is based (in this case: Spanish).

In order to test the boundaries between these two languages, older native speakers, Palenquero language teachers and learners were presented with various statements and asked to classify them as Spanish-only, Palenquero-only or mixed. All Palenquero speakers were consistently able to identify Palenquero-only and Spanish-only statements. However, across groups, many of the mixed Palenquero-Spanish statements went undetected. Older native speakers in particular tended to classify these as ‘Palenquero-only’, whereas teachers and learners were able to identify mixed statements more accurately. This result may reflect teachers’ and learners’ knowledge of Palenquero grammar, which older native speakers may not possess on a conscious level. In addition, some participants may not have wanted to admit that members of their community mix the two languages.

Participants were later required to listen to long statements in Palenquero, Spanish or both languages and to then repeat them. Because it is difficult to remember the exact wording of long statements, they had to fill in portions of these statements with their own words, which often resulted in spontaneous corrections of Spanish words in Palenquero statements. Even if participants were unaware of the code-mixing that had occurred, they automatically removed any Spanish words that had been present. This finding seems to indicate that speakers of Palenquero do set bounadries between their languages, which in turn suggests that Palenquero is not undergoing decreolization. At the same time, although code-mixing is discouraged within the community, it may often go unnoticed in daily communication.

Jessica Terese Mueller

Lipski, J.M. (2016). Palenquero and Spanish: A first psycholinguistic exploration. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 31:1, 42 – 81.

When migrant children return to their country of birth – Is there a cut-off point for language?

Young children who move abroad are generally quick to learn the new language. But what if their parents decide to return home after living in the second language environment for many years?

Flores investigated the role of age for maintaining the second language when migrants return to their country of birth. The study traces the German-language development of Ana, a nine-year old girl, who returned to Portugal after living in Germany for seven years. Having attended kindergarten and school in Germany, Ana was dominant in German when she first arrived in Portugal, and German was the language she used to communicate with her older brother.

Three months after arriving in Portugal, Ana’s use of German had ceased almost completely. Five months after her arrival, Ana was still able to converse in German but sometimes had trouble remembering German words and correctly using certain aspects of German grammar. After 18 months, conversation had become too difficult but she was still able to complete some written tasks.

In contrast, Flores has also been able to show that children who remained in Germany until they were teenagers maintained a good level of German fluency when they returned to Portugal. This seems to suggest a type of cut-off point at which a second language becomes stabilized in the mind and is immune to the effects of language loss. When exposure to a second language ceases before this point, as was the case with Ana, more effort is required to maintain it.

Importantly, Flores points out that Ana did not actually “lose” her German. Instead, she had trouble activating her knowledge of the language as she was not exposed to it. This was not such a problem for her peers who had lived in Germany until they were teenagers.

What we can take from this study is the importance of maintaining exposure to a child’s second language, particularly if they are below puberty age when they leave the second language environment.

Anika Lloyd-Smith

Flores, C. (2015). Losing a language in childhood: a longitudinal case study on language attrition. In: Journal of child language, 42:3, 562–590.