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Emergent bilinguals (EBs) who are exposed to societal language at school but use another language at home may experience difficulties in mastering the societal language, especially those at risk for language and reading disabilities. Learning phonologically specific new words that discriminate between phonemes may foster phonological awareness and word reading. This study examined the effectiveness of a lexical specificity intervention program that targeted phoneme discrimination in EBs at risk for reading disabilities. EBs who scored below the 25th percentile on the screening measures were selected and randomly assigned to one of two conditions: at-risk intervention or at-risk control. Of the 76 EBs in the at-risk group, 40 were randomly assigned to receive the intervention. A group of 51 typically developing EBs who did not meet the risk criteria were selected as typical controls. The pre- and post-tests include phoneme discrimination, phonological awareness, rapid automatized naming, fluency, and decoding. The at-risk intervention group showed improvement on the phoneme discrimination task after the intervention and outperformed the at-risk control group but not the typical control group. In addition, growth was observed during both the training and testing sessions of the intervention. The lexical specificity intervention could be a good resource to enhance a key precursor to literacy development for at-risk EBs.
This paper provides an overview of the features of caregiver input that facilitate language learning across early childhood. We discuss three dimensions of input quality: interactive, linguistic, and conceptual. All three types of input features have been shown to predict children's language learning, though perhaps through somewhat different mechanisms. We argue that input best designed to promote language learning is interactionally supportive, linguistically adapted, and conceptually challenging for the child's age/level. Furthermore, input features interact across dimensions to promote learning. Some but not all qualities of input vary based on parent socioeconomic status, language, or culture, and contexts such as book-reading or pretend play generate uniquely facilitative input features. The review confirms that we know a great deal about the role of input quality in promoting children's development, but that there is much more to learn. Future research should examine input features across the boundaries of the dimensions distinguished here.
In the early years of the Journal of Child Language, there was considerable disagreement about the role of language input or adult–child interaction in children's language acquisition. The view that quantity and quality of input to language-learning children is relevant to their language development has now become widely accepted as a principle guiding advice to parents and the design of early childhood education programs, even if it is not yet uncontested in the field of language development. The focus on variation in the language input to children acquires particular educational relevance when we consider variation in access to academic language – features of language particularly valued in school and related to success in reading and writing. Just as many children benefit from language environments that are intentionally designed to ensure adequate quantity and quality of input, even more probably need explicit instruction in the features of language that characterize its use for academic purposes
This longitudinal quasi-experimental study examines the effects of Word Generation, a middle-school vocabulary intervention, on the learning, maintenance, and consolidation of academic vocabulary for students from English-speaking homes, proficient English speakers from language-minority homes, and limited English-proficiency students. Using individual growth modeling, we found that students receiving Word Generation improved more on target word knowledge during the instructional period than students in comparison schools did, on average. We found an interaction between instruction and home-language status such that English-proficient students from language-minority homes improved more than English-proficient students from English-speaking homes. Limited English-proficiency students, however, did not realize gains equivalent to those of more proficient students from language-minority homes during the instructional period. We administered follow-up assessments in the fall after the instructional period ended and in the spring of the following year to determine how well students maintained and consolidated target academic words. Students in the intervention group maintained their relative improvements at both follow-up assessments.
This research examines the processes which native Spanish-speaking learners of English and English-only students engage in when inferring meaning for unknown English words that have Spanish cognates. Conducted within the context of a large-scale vocabulary intervention that taught word inferencing strategies, including a cognate strategy, this qualitative study describes cognate strategy use among a small sample of participants. The data suggest that explicit instruction, students' metalinguistic and metacognitive skills, and the structural characteristics of cognate pairs are associated with cognate recognition.
Giving good definitions requires controlling both word meaning and definitional form. Definitions from 137 second to fifth graders (i.e. aged seven to eleven) were scored to reflect conformity to the classic Aristotelian form and quality of information provided. Comparisons among children with different backgrounds indicated that school exposure to English was strongly related to per cent formal definitions given and their quality. 63 children were also tested in French, their foreign language. Performance in French was lower than in English; exposure to French at home related to the amount of information the children provided in informal definitions, not to quality of formal definitions. The results suggest that performance on definitions is most strongly affected by opportunities to practise the required form.
In her paper “Methodological reflections on studies of preschoolers' awareness of the form/content distinction, in spoken communication”, Lisbeth Hedelin again raises the long discussed and still murky issue of how children come to understand the distinction between what an utterance means and how exactly it is said. The form/content distinction is, of course, a central feature and defining property of natural languages. It is relevant to the basic grammatical demonstration of ambiguity, which is recurrently offered as evidence for a deep structure/surface structure distinction: “Visiting relatives can be tiresome” as one form with two content interpretations. It is also relevant to any notion of language as an effective communication system in which levels of directness can be manipulated in the service of politeness, and in which deniability is the prerogative of the language user: “It sure would be nice to have a beer in this heat” displays potential ambiguity of interpretation between request and comment —of quite a different sort from “visiting relatives”. The multiplicity of form/content distinctions is central to Hedelin's paper, which takes as a starting point the possibility that different tasks might reveal quite different levels of ability to deal with or display control over the basic notion that form and content do not map in a one-to-one way on to each other.
The recent upsurge of attention to Vygotsky's writings in developmental psychology, with their welcome focus on the role of the adult, on interaction and on the connection between communication and cognition constitutes a healthy redress to the Piagetian focus on the autonomous child operating in a world of things and actions rather than a world of people and relationships. In light of the corrective potential of Vygotskian ideas, it is not surprising that they have been embraced widely. Unfortunately, despite the initial appeal of central Vygotskian notions like the zone of proximal development, the intraindividual recapitulation of interindividual processes and the use of language as mediational means, it is very hard to take these notions beyond the status of slogan to the status of explanatory concept. A valuable contribution made by Junefelt in her article “The zone of proximal development and communicative development” is to give concrete examples of how these Vygotskian notions can help us understand a particular domain of development — communication.
In her paper “The acquisition process of consonantal clusters in the child: some universal rules?”, Velta Rūķe-Draviņa focuses on one of the oldest and most persistent issues in language development—the degree to which order of acquisition is governed by universals. An alternative way of formulating her question is: does one do a better job of predicting features of child language acquisition from knowing about the specific language being learned or from knowing about characteristics of all the world's languages? Suppose the language to be learned makes frequent use of a structure that is relatively rare in the world's languages, and thus presumably highly marked? Will the child learn the structure in question early because of its importance in the target language, or late because of its markedness?
The present paper investigates a strategy for language acquisition adopted by one child, and the usefulness of book-reading in supporting that strategy. Conversations between this child and his mother around picture-book reading were recorded and recurrent discussions of the same picture were analysed. A coding scheme was devised which identified each speaker's contribution to the exchange of information about a particular picture. By examining recurrent picture discussions, it was possible to trace the child's acquisition of the linguistic means for talking about a given picture. It was found that specific lexical items and constructions used to talk about a picture frequently recurred in subsequent discussions, and that the child learned many of these same items and constructions. Furthermore, he was most likely to acquire what he had heard his mother say about a picture if he had repeated it in an earlier discussion. The usefulness of routines for such situation-specific learning and the implications of the situation-specific approach for future investigations of input language are discussed.