According to Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2011, one in five children in the US live in households in which a language other than English is spoken. Although children from language minority homes have definite linguistic strengths, research shows that many reach school age with lower levels of English language skills than do middle-class, monolingual children from English-speaking homes.
Language Skills Develop Differently in Bilingual Homes
Over the years, Erika Hoff, Professor of Developmental Psychology on the faculty of Florida Atlantic University, has researched effects of bilingualism and socioeconomic status on language development. Decoded Science discussed with her the issue of the language development gap of children from minority language homes, and its connection to academic achievement.
Do Language Development Gaps Close?
Language gaps develop in a bilingual environment, particularly in households of a low socioeconomic status. We asked Professor Hoff whether the gap closes for bilingual kids as they progress through school.
She responded, “The gap gets smaller, but it does not close completely for many years, if ever. Some data from the United States have suggested that children from language minority backgrounds do not catch up to their monolingual peers in vocabulary. However, a follow-up study of one of my pieces of research shows that the bilingual children had caught up to monolingual norms in English by the age of 4 years—although not their SES matched monolingual age mates—and they also had slipped relative to monolingual norms in their Spanish skills.
Early Verbal Language Skills Effects on Academic Success
We know that verbal skills are know to be a predictor of academic success in some groups. Bilinguals with weaker verbal language skills cannot always be judged in the same way. Decoded Science asked Professor Hoff about the academic consequences of language-minority children’s early verbal language skills? She explained that we can separate the effect on academic achievement into three types of findings.