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Bilingualism, Language Impairment, & Socioeconomic Status (Chief Scientist MoE)

Bilingualism, Language Impairment, and Socioeconomic Status: Impact on Emergent Literacy (BLISS-EL)
Ministry of Education

Carmit Altman, Sharon Armon-Lotem & Joel Walters

The results of PISA tests and up-to-date statistics examining the educational achievements of children from immigrant backgrounds indicate that second language proficiency is key to educational integration. Educational staff in kindergartens and schools often have the ability to detect that the language development of a child is different than his peers, but they do not have the tools to identify with certainty whether the difficulty is due to impairment or to the acquisition of a second language. Specific language impairment (SLI) is diagnosed in 7-10% (Barcow 2008) and it is assumed not to be different for children from bilingual homes or from low socio economic status (SES). SLI is an innate disorder diagnosed according to linguistic-behavioral measures in comparison to the skills of age matched peers and social background. Since there may be overlap between the language characteristics of bilingual acquisition and those reported for SLI (Paradis 2010) and the use of language in children with low SES (2013Hoff), the clinical diagnosis is difficult. Furthermore, variance in bilingual language acquisition due to low SLI or SES may affect not only language development but also identity and self-esteem. All of these elements are relevant to school success and should therefore be identified as accurately and as early as possible.

The goals of the current proposal are to expand preschool data collection to include pre-literacy and academic readiness measures at preschool age, as well as follow-up reading and comprehension in first-grade participants. Collecting this type of data will help identify which measures of bilingual children from low SES will best predict academic success in school age. This will make our findings relevant to the development of linguistic and literacy enrichment programs appropriate to the needs of the bilingual population, to teacher training workshops on linguistic diversity in the bilingual population and in the low SES; and parent workshops for children from bilingual homes from a low SES. The emphasis placed in research on this disadvantaged population is expected to enhance their integration into the education system while understanding their unique needs and respect for their cultural identity.

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