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Can speakers of different languages be saying the same thing? Influences of non-native language exposure and explicit comparison on children’s language awareness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2022

Dolly P. Rojo*
Affiliation:
Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles, USA
Catharine H. Echols
Affiliation:
The University of Texas, Austin, USA
Zenzi M. Griffin
Affiliation:
The University of Texas, Austin, USA
*
*Corresponding author. Email: drojo@msmu.edu

Abstract

Language awareness (LA)—an understanding of the communicative functions and conventions of language—could benefit monolingual children as they navigate their increasingly multilingual world. To evaluate how non-native language exposure influences English-speaking children’s understanding that different languages can convey equivalent information, 63 5–7-year-olds compared utterances in English and Lithuanian (unfamiliar to all participants). Half of the children also compared English utterances to Spanish (a widely spoken language in their community—94% of children had some past exposure), whereas the other half compared English utterances to Tagalog (unfamiliar to all participants). Children in the Spanish condition were significantly more likely than those in the Tagalog condition to agree that a Lithuanian and an English speaker could be saying the same thing. We argue that children’s experience with Spanish as a community language, coupled with explicit questioning about commonalities between languages, served to scaffold an understanding of LA.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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