Predicting risk for oral and written language learning difficulties in students educated in a second language

Post written by Dr. Caroline Erdos based on an article from Applied Psycholinguistics

Students who struggle with oral language and literacy are at increased risk for dropping out of school. The gap between struggling students and their typically-developing peers is smallest early on and therefore, the chances of bridging that gap are greatest in the early grades. However, more and more students have had little or no exposure to the language of schooling until their first day of school and this makes it difficult for school personnel to disentangle true risk for learning disability from incomplete second language acquisition. The result is that identification and intervention is often delayed in the case of second language learners, even those in immersion classes (ex: native speakers of English attending French immersion school), thus placing them at a significant disadvantage as compared to native speakers of the language of schooling (ex: native speakers of English attending English school) who often begin to receive help with oral language or (pre)literacy as early as kindergarten.

A promising avenue is to use student’s skills in oral language and literacy in their first language to predict how they will eventually perform in these areas in their second language. It is crucial to fully understand the possibilities and limitations of this method, however.

A second related issue is the importance of providing help that is most likely to have the greatest impact on student’s academic success. Numerous studies and clinical experience have shown that the more targeted the help, the more likely students will make gains. Therefore, once a child has been identified as presenting with oral language or literacy difficulties, it is imperative to identify the specific area of difficulty within each domain — in the area of oral language: vocabulary, grammar, phonology, discourse, or pragmatics; and in the area of literacy: phonological processing, letter-sound knowledge, decoding accuracy, decoding speed, lexical knowledge, or reading comprehension. Targeted intervention is key to making gains. For example, a child who struggles to understand what he reads is not likely to benefit from intervention targeting letter-sound knowledge, unless poor letter-sound knowledge was the primary cause of his inability to understand what he reads. Exactly how to provide targeted intervention is better understood for some areas, for example decoding accuracy or decoding speed,  than for others, for example oral language or reading comprehension. However, even in these less understood domains there is a general consensus that intervention that focuses on vocabulary (breadth and depth) and complex language skills would be useful.

Read the full article until July 31, 2014:

“Predicting risk for oral and written language learning difficulties in students educated in a second language” by Caroline Erdos, Fred Genesee, Robert Savage and Corinne Haigh

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