Impact of language background and school factors on core language skills

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Bilingual children are at a disadvantage when compared to monolingual norms in language assessment. Monolingual assessment fails to acknowledge the asymmetrically distributed linguistic competence of bilingual children, for example, different levels of mastery of family and school related concepts in the first and second languages, respectively. Consequently, monolingual assessment results in an overidentification of language impairment in bilingual populations. However, other factors, in many communities associated with bilingualism, may also yield low results in language assessments. We investigated the Swedish CELF-4 Core subscales for receptive language and grammatical production of over 220 7-8-year-old children, all students in the classrooms of teachers participating in an ongoing practice-embedded intervention aimed at modifying mainstream primary school teachers’ verbal and nonverbal instructional communication. The student sample is representative of a southern Swedish urban and suburban population, with approximately 50 percent of students reported by parents to use at least one other language on a daily basis, in addition to the Swedish used in school, although with great differences in proportions, with participating schools ranging between 0 and 95 percent bilingual students. Multiple linear regression was used to assess the contribution of bilingualism, parental education level, school district and enrolment in extra-curricular activities on CELF-4 Core scores. In isolation, bilingualism predicted 38 percent of the variance in the CELF-4 Core scores, p < 0,01. With parental education level, school district and enrolment in extra-curricular activities entered the total variance explained by the model increased to 54 percent. However, the unique contribution of bilingualism was reduced to 9 percent. The results highlight the need to look beyond bilingualism in language assessment and educational management of bilingual children and adolescents, and to consider other explanations to academic struggle. Furthermore, alternative interventions must be considered and applied proportionately to their respective impact on the individual’s development. Evidence-based, high-quality language instruction in school must be complemented by community-based interventions aimed at increasing the parental education level and at providing counsel to parents and families on factors associated with academic advancement, e.g. extra-curricular activities. Measures must also be taken to reduce the gap between schools in order to avoid the double dose of disadvantage often experienced by bilingual children and adolescents and their families in areas of socioeconomic stress.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Apr 24
EventLund Symposium on Cognition, Communication and Learning - Museum of Artistic Process and Public Art (Skissernas Museum), Lund, Sweden
Duration: 2019 Apr 242019 Apr 26


ConferenceLund Symposium on Cognition, Communication and Learning
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Medical Sciences not elsewhere specified
  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

Free keywords

  • Bilingualism
  • Language Development


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