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Language acquisition and emergent literacy among preschool children with and without SLI (ISF)

Disentangling Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and socioeconomic influences on language acquisition and emergent literacy among preschool children with and without SLI from two bilingual disadvantaged populations

ISF 863/14 Sharon Armon-Lotem, Carmit Altman & Joel Walters

For any immigrant group, successful integration means acquiring a new language, ongoing acculturation into the new society and developing literacy skills in the new language. Variations in bilingual language acquisition due to Specific Language Impairment (SLI) or lower Socioeconomic Status (SES) or are expected to impact on language development and literacy skills, while showing more complex relationships with sociolinguistic factors such as identity and attitudes. Features of typically developing bilingual language acquisition overlap with those reported for impaired language and language use among children with low SES, leading to methodological and clinical confounds, over- and under-diagnosis, and possible blurring of the potential benefits of bilingualism. The proposed study is child-centered. Academic success of a child is the composite of home, schooling and individual capacity. But what are the contributions of these components? Which aspects of each, when observed in preschool years, are most predictive of academic success in later schooling? The main objective of this study is to identify markers of language impairment and predictors of academic success among disadvantaged children from bilingual backgrounds by examining some of the critical features of bilingual language development and emergent literacy. The study will focus on children from two low SES/disadvantaged bilingual populations: preschool children of Ethiopian background and preschool children of Russian background. We adopt a longitudinal perspective, testing children once in kindergarten at the age of 6 and again at the end of first grade, and supplementing the testing with interviews with parents and teachers for one more year. Multiple measures will be used to collect child data on linguistic and cognitive tasks and on family and schooling environment, identity and self-perception from parents as well as children, in order to achieve a widescoped profile of these two groups of preschool children of bilingual background with low SES. The composition of linguistic and cognitive tasks, when investigated longitudinally, are expected to shed light on the role of SES, input and length of exposure vs. the role of innate capacities in language development and emergent literacy skills of developing bilinguals and offer guidance identifying potential indicators of impairment in these under-investigated populations.

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