Poster (Scientific congresses, symposiums and conference proceedings)
Multilingualism and language learning: A study of Portuguese immigrant children growing up in a multilingual society
Engel de Abreu, Pascale
2010Let the Children Speak Learning of Critical Language Skills across 28 Languages


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Keywords :
working memory; immigration; language
Abstract :
[en] Working memory is suggested to play a crucial role in children’s native and foreign language acquisition. The major aim of the present study was to explore how growing up with an immigrant background might affect children’s linguistic and working memory abilities. Twenty 7-year old Portuguese children from Luxembourg, who speak Portuguese at home and acquire Luxembourgish in a natural setting and German through scholastic instruction, participated in the study. Children completed several measures of verbal short-term memory (digit recall and nonword repetition) and complex working memory span tasks (counting recall and backwards digit recall) in Luxembourgish and in Portuguese. Participants were further assessed on vocabulary measures in Portuguese, Luxembourgish, and German, and on syntactic comprehension in Luxembourgish and German. The Portuguese children were compared to three groups of monolingual speakers: 20 Luxembourgish children living in Luxembourg and 40 Portuguese speaking children growing up in Brazil. The Brazilian children were recruited from families of high and low socio-economical status (SES) with 20 children in each group. Participants in the Luxembourgish sample were of high SES and the Portuguese children were of lower SES. Groups were matched on age, nonverbal ability, and gender. The results showed that in the Portuguese immigrant children, language competences in Portuguese, Luxembourgish, and German were at an equivalent level that fell below the linguistic competence of native speakers from Brazil and from Luxembourg. For the working memory measures the data showed first that the Portuguese children performed equally well in the Luxembourgish and Portuguese versions of the digit recall, backwards digit recall, and counting recall tasks, and second that the Portuguese children’s performance in these three measures did not differ from their monolingual peers from Luxembourg and Brazil. For nonword repetition the results showed that the Portuguese children performed equally well to their Brazilian counterparts in the repetition of the Portuguese sounding nonwords whereas their performance in the repetition of the Luxembourgish nonwords was below that of the native Luxembourgish speakers. This latter finding is consistent with the position that verbal short-term memory performance is better for familiar rather than unfamiliar lexical material. Despite normal general cognitive functions, as documented by the working memory measures, immigrant children showed significantly reduced language performance that can not be easily explained by differences in wealth or other socio economic factors. Instead, the findings appear to be a direct consequence of growing up as an immigrant in a multilingual society raising the question of the necessity of specific language support for immigrant children growing up in a multilingual society. The results also have important practical utility: Whereas language assessments based on measurements of vocabulary may overestimate language learning difficulties in children with an immigrant background working memory measures might not. As working memory measures are highly associated with children’s language learning and more general academic progress, these tests can provide methods of identifying children with potential learning difficulties that are unlikely to be distorted by differences in wealth or other significant environmental factors that have an impact on language learning opportunities.
Disciplines :
Theoretical & cognitive psychology
Author, co-author :
Engel de Abreu, Pascale  ;  University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Educational Measurement and Applied Cognitive Science (EMACS)
Language :
Title :
Multilingualism and language learning: A study of Portuguese immigrant children growing up in a multilingual society
Publication date :
January 2010
Event name :
Let the Children Speak Learning of Critical Language Skills across 28 Languages
Event place :
London, United Kingdom
Event date :
22 - 24 January 2010
Audience :
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since 22 May 2013


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