Archive for category culture

What should you expect in the two languages of US Mandarin-English bilingual children?

If you are a speech-language pathologist, have you noticed that in recent years there has been some Mandarin-speaking children on your patient list? If you are a parent of a Mandarin-English bilingual child, do you at times worry about your child’s language development? Both of you may wonder: what does a typical language profile look like for US Mandarin-English bilingual children? It may be hard for you to find relevant studies, but luckily we have just published some data to address this question.

We had 21 Mandarin-English bilingual children from the central Texas. Mandarin was their first language as both parents were Mandarin-speaking, and they started learning English later when they started school. We presented a wordless picture book to children and asked them to tell us a complete story. We asked them to tell stories in both languages: Mandarin and English.

In order to tell stories, these children, who were around 7 years old, had to use their all their language skill. This was not an easy task for a child who just entered school because they may not be fluent in one of their languages depending on when they started learning English and whether they used Mandarin at home. The stories really provided us a way to describe children’s language performance. We looked at macrostructure – the global structure of a story. For example, whether the child included main characters in the story, whether there was an event that initiated the story, whether the development and the consequence of the event were stated, and whether the characters had any internal responses corresponding to the event.

We also examined what specific linguistic features were used in each language – microstructure. As you may know, Mandarin and English are very different. One big difference is that English uses affixes (e.g., plural –s, past tense –ed), whereas Mandarin does not. Mandarin has a classifier inserted between a number and a noun when people count objects (e.g., san ZHI qingwa – three ZHI frogs), but English does not. There are many other differences and these are just some examples. In each language, we selected 17 features to present children’s overall microstructure in that language.

Then we compared children’s performance between the two languages on macrostructure and microstructure. We knew that these children at the time of testing listened to and spoke more English than Mandarin daily, so we considered experience in our data computation. After statistically accounting for current language experience, we found that macrostructure was comparable between the two languages. That says if children know that they need to include these key elements into a story, they can do it in both languages. However, we saw a big difference in microstructure, with English significantly better than Mandarin. Children could easily produce many English features, but could not produce most Mandarin features.

Does this relate to their imbalanced cumulative language experience in English and Mandarin? The answer is YES. Age, associated with cumulative language exposure, was only related to macro- and microstructure in English but not Mandarin. Probably, to maintain Mandarin as a heritage language, these bilingual children needed to gain more exposure and to practice Mandarin more often. Another thing we considered was that increased English experience may interfere the growth of Mandarin, as the two languages are typologically distinct.

A caveat I would like to note is that these children were from Texas, and we did not know if these results could apply to children living in other places where Mandarin has stronger community support for use (like New York, California……). We will strive to find the answers for you in our future studies.

If you want to read the publication, here is the link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323641964_Narrative_skills_in_two_languages_of_Mandarin-English_bilingual_children

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Is This Student a Translator? How the Hidden Skills of Bilingual Students Promote Literacy

Translating from English to a home language is an everyday skill in the lives of many bilingual children whose parents speak little English. Because translating often does not require professional training or numerous years of schooling, children who translate have not received the recognition for the immensely important work that they do for the good of their families. Researchers have coined a term called “language brokering” to capture the essence of what children translators do- translating, mediating, interpreting, and negotiating for their loved ones in schools, banks, hospitals, government offices, restaurants, and other diverse settings. Although there are concerns about children being language brokers for their parents, there may be hidden strengths that we (researchers, practitioners, and policy makers) aren’t fully considering. Read the rest of this entry »

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The other day I read a post by Nicholas Miller on the Speech and Language Sciences @ Newcastle University blog. He talked about the reprinting of his book, “Bilingualism and Language Disability” in psychology press’ classic revivals series. He reminisced about how the 1984 book came to be in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

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Punk Syndrome

Another movie I got to see at SXSW was Punk Syndrome. It’s a documentary about a Finnish punk band called, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. The film follows the daily lives of the musicians in the band, who are developmentally delayed. Their developmental delays are not specifically the focus of the movie. Rather the focus is on their daily lives, interactions with each other and with family and caregivers. I think a strength of the film is that it allows the audience to see this group of people in their every day lives– disagreements, falling in love, negotiating, planning and so on– activities to which we can all relate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingualism in Hawaii

So, I’m headed out to Hawaii– Oahu more specifically to teach the second half of a course at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, CSD department. I know it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. My colleague Lisa Bedore, taught the first half of the course (we did run into each other at SRCLD— which was amazing, but that’s another post).

What are the languages of Hawaii? Well, not Spanish, although some 2.6% of residents speak Spanish. In addition to English, Tagalog is a language that 5.6% of the resident speak. This is followed by Japanese (4.96%) and Ilocano (4.05%). Hawaiian is one of the states official languages (the other being English) but fewer than .1 of the residents speak Hawaiian as a native langauge.

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If we know more why don’t people act like it?

So last time I posted on the blog, I talked about how we know a lot more this year.  We’ve learned so much more about bilingualism and the positive effects of bilingualism on children’s learning on preservation of language capabilities for people as they age. At the time I wrote that I was feeling rather pessimistic but I ended up writing a post that was optimistic.  So today I’m going to touch on the pessimistic side. Read the rest of this entry »

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Are we what we say?

I’ve continued to read Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate. Because it’s non-fiction, I tend to read it in fits and spurts and I jump around from chapter to chapter. I also have pink post-its stuck in pages here and there– I almost never do this with books I read for pleasure (maybe it reminds me of work– where I use virtual post-its in iAnnotate). Anyway, on page 286 here is what Tan writes:

Even more dangerous, in my view, is the temptation to compare both language and behavior in translation.

Here, I think she is talking about making assumptions about what someone thinks based on what they say– or more specifically, based on errors they make in their second language. At the same time, I’m intrigued by the pairing of language and behavior in the context of translation. You see, language is more than the words– more than linguistic equivalence. It is how those words are used in a given cultural context. How those words may or may not match up with actions, facial expressions, and gestures. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Translation

After almost 10 years, I am reading Amy Tan’s book, “The Opposite of Fate” a memoir. I have always enjoyed Tan’s writing and I have enjoyed this book very much. With her linguistics background she has great insight to her own writing process and to the ways that people around her use language. One of the parts that I connected with is her description of the ways her own awareness of two languages and what it means. Read the rest of this entry »

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English Language Acquisition and Special Education

The Spring 2011 report of the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition is dedicated to the question of how to work with ELLs who have special needs. And yes, we have an article in this issue, but ours certainly isn’t the only one.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingual Literacy

This article in the Santa Rosa Democrat brought to mind the notion of bilingual literacy. What is bilingual literacy?  Bilingual literacy or biliteracy is the notion of going beyond being orally proficient in two language to becoming highly fluent in speaking, reading, and writing and learning about other cultures. It also emphasizes strong skills in both the majority language– English and a foreign language. In the context of the “bilingual path” that the Windsor schools are going to recognize it’s about cultural, spoken, and written knowledge in two (or more) languages.

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