Researchers Get $3.3 Million Grant to Investigate Language Outcomes of Bilingual Children

May 19, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — University of Texas at Austin researchers have received a $3.3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to conduct a five-year study of speech and language development in bilingual children who speak English and Spanish, comparing those whose language skills are delayed with those who have no delays.

"Spanish speakers are the largest language minority in the United States and make up 79 percent of the school age limited English speaking population," says psychologist Zenzi Griffin, a researcher for the project. "Yet, it is unclear how children move from first to second language development and which oral language skills transfer between the two languages. At the same time, there is a popular myth that exposure to two languages will slow down language learning in children, especially those who have language impairment."

Language impairments include difficulty learning and using language rules — in particular grammatical development, usage and vocabulary — in children who have no other disabilities that would explain their language delays.

For the study, Griffin will work with Professor Elizabeth Peña and Associate Professor Lisa Bedore, both with the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Communication. About 1,800 bilingual children in Austin will be screened starting in preschool, first grade or third grade.

The study will examine the relationship between learning sounds in words, vocabulary and grammar, to compare performance that stems from linguistic experience with performance that reflects language ability. Of those children, a subset of 330 will be followed through fifth grade. This phase of the study will document year-to-year changes in bilingual children's oral language skills in both languages and compare them to English-only speakers.

"I would hope that the research will help us understand how children learn language and how two languages interact in a single person," says Peña. "I expect that knowing this information and the different patterns of bilingual language use in children with and without language impairment will help us to develop more accurate measurements of language ability and will lead to improved intervention for children with language impairment."

For more information, contact: Michelle Bryant, College of Liberal Arts, 512 232 4730; Elizabeth Peña, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, 512-471-2690; Zenzi Griffin, Department of Psychology, 512-232-8062.

10 Comments to "Researchers Get $3.3 Million Grant to Investigate Language Outcomes of Bilingual Children

1.  K said on May 27, 2010


2.  Suzanne said on May 27, 2010

What an amazing opportunity! I work with ELL and I know this study will help answer many questions.

3.  Dr. Velma Perez said on May 27, 2010

Great! I am presently a first grade bilingual teacher at Linder and have noticed some interesting language acquisition. Please keep me informed or let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

4.  Dr. Francisco R. Pérez said on May 27, 2010

Will this study be enlarged later to include bilingual children in different parts of Texas? Cultural differences do affect language acquisition. These differences reflect the predominance of one language over the other as, say, in El Paso, Del Valle or Dallas, for example.

5.  Teri Gallegos-Reynolds said on May 27, 2010

I was drawn by the headline of this article. I am an educator as well as someone whose first language was Spanish. Kudos to the researchers!

I agree with Dr. Perez about differences that reflect predominance of languages. There are so many variables to consider in such a study. For example, is a family's socioeconomic strand a consideration? Will these children be in a bilingual program or an immersion program? Will English be the primary mode of instruction and communication? Will teachers in the study need to be certified/qualified to teach ELL, ESL? The list can go on and on.

6.  Jannette Keating said on May 29, 2010

The study will surely provide useful information concerning optimum conditions for second language learning, as well as generating a better understanding about why some children do better than others. I have many years (16) experience teaching French immersion to Anglophone children in Canada and am interested in helping with the project if you would like help! Perhaps I can offer some Canadian insight, but more important, perhaps I will learn something important about the American-Hispanic connection and contribute to improved success in encouraging second language acquisition within the culture!

7.  Zenzi Griffin said on May 31, 2010

Great questions! We will collect and consider a great deal of information about the children's circumstances. We are particularly interested in differences in language proficiency and processing that are associated with differences in amount of daily exposure to English and Spanish. Children will be recruited from a variety of bilingual and monolingual English programs. Because socio-economic status is known to have a strong effect on language development, we will definitely be considering it.

8.  Don Weintritt said on June 14, 2010

My youngest son David is is maried to a Japanese woman, Mariko. They have two girls 9 and 11. At home David speaks English and Mariko speaks Japanese. We have observed that they have no Japanese accent whatsoever. We have also been told the children speak Japanese with no English accent.

It is suggested that the proposed study include the effect of a similar strong home environment on bilingual English/Spanish children.

Don Weintritt
Class of 1950

9.  Dr.Alok Chaubey said on June 16, 2010

I hv done my Phd on concept formation and worked on category association and Pair Relations of cognitive structures. If any thing I can assist to you It would be a great opportunity to me for learning and doing with you.

Congratulations again to yyou and your team.

10.  Marypaz Buitron said on July 1, 2010

Great! Congratulations! I think that there are lots of questions that need to be answered and these research studies certainly give us insight to guide our practices in second language acquisition. How can we keep updated with the progress of this study?