A professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University has received a $2.9 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue a unique longitudinal study of bilingual development in children from Spanish-speaking homes.
Thirty-five million households in the United States speak Spanish exclusively or in addition to English, and that number is expected to triple by the year 2050. Furthermore, 1 in 5 children in the U.S. live in households in which a language other than English is spoken, and 79 percent of school-age language minority children in the U.S are Spanish-speaking. Children from these homes are at risk for poor academic outcomes and the associated negative consequences for health and well-being. It is estimated that 31 percent of children who speak English, but who hear a language other than English at home fail to complete high school, compared with 10 percent of students from English-speaking only homes.
“Our current scientific understanding of the factors that support the development of English skills, bilingualism, and school achievement in children from Spanish-speaking homes is inadequate as a basis for educational practices and public policy,” said Erika Hoff, Ph.D., principal investigator, a psychology professor in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and director of the Language Development Lab, located on FAU’s Davie campus. “Our research will provide the scientific foundation for best practices to support language, literacy, cognitive growth, and academic achievement of children from Spanish-speaking homes.”
This project is a continuation of a longitudinal study spearheaded by Hoff with 137 children from Spanish-speaking homes and 34 children from monolingual English-speaking homes. Hoff and her research team have followed these children since they were 2.5 years old through age 5. The researchers will continue to follow these children through age 10.
Hoff and her team will work to identify factors that mitigate risks for poor oral language, literacy, and academic outcomes in children from dual language environments. They also plan to test their hypothesis that children with poor oral language skills in both Spanish and English at school entry are most at risk, and help to identify the factors associated with this at-risk profile.
“Poor literacy outcomes among such a substantial segment of the population constitutes a significant public health concern because low levels of literacy are associated with higher rates of disease, mental illness, unemployment, and contact with the criminal justice system,” said Janet Blanks, Ph.D., interim dean of FAU’s College of Science. “This NIH grant will enable Dr. Hoff to continue her groundbreaking research in language development in bilingual Spanish-speaking children.”