Reference : Brave new word: Multilingualism and language learning. A study of Portuguese immigran...
Scientific congresses, symposiums and conference proceedings : Poster
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Theoretical & cognitive psychology
Brave new word: Multilingualism and language learning. A study of Portuguese immigrant children growing up in a plurilingual society
Engel de Abreu, Pascale mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Educational Measurement and Applied Cognitive Science (EMACS)]
Gathercole, S []
Martin, Romain mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Education, Culture, Cognition and Society (ECCS) >]
dos Santos, F []
New Directions in Word Learning
17th-18th of April 2008
[en] working memory ; language ; immigration
[en] Working memory, the capacity to store and manipulate information over brief periods of time (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974) is suggested to play a crucial role in children’s language acquisition in native and foreign languages (e.g. Gathercole, 2006; Service, 1992). The present study investigated children’s working memory skills and vocabulary knowledge in their native and secondary languages in the context of immigration. Twenty Portuguese immigrant children growing up in Luxembourg, who speak Portuguese at home, and acquire Luxembourgish in a natural setting and German through scholastic instruction, participated in the study. Children were assessed on measures of phonological short-term memory (digit recall and nonword repetition) and complex working memory (counting recall and backwards digit recall) in both Luxembourgish and Portuguese, on vocabulary knowledge (Portuguese, Luxembourgish, and German) and on comprehension (Luxembourgish and German). The children were compared to three groups of monolingual children: 20 Luxembourgish speakers living in Luxembourg and 40 Portuguese speakers from Brazil growing up in families of high (N=20) and low (N=20) socio economical status (SES). Groups were matched on age (7 years), nonverbal ability and gender.
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. The 4 groups did not differ on two of the four working memory measures. On one of the complex working memory tasks (counting recall) the low SES group from Brazil manifested scores that fell below the three other groups. Finally, the Portuguese immigrant 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 fell below that of the native Luxembourgish speakers. These results are consistent with findings that phonological short-term memory performance is better for familiar rather than unfamiliar lexical material (Gathercole, 1995).
As the Portuguese immigrant children and their monolingual peers from Luxembourg and Brazil performed at comparable levels on the working memory measures, their poor language performances in all three languages is unlikely to be related to a fundamental cognitive deficit. Their even lower knowledge of Portuguese, vocabulary than children from impoverished backgrounds in Brazil also rules out the hypothesis that their poor language skills are simply a reflection of lower socio-economical status. Instead, the findings appear to be a direct consequence of growing up as an immigrant in a multilingual society.

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