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Bilingualism, Language Impairment, and Socioeconomic Status: Impact on Emergent Literacy (BLISS-EL)


Ministry of Education (MoE)


PI1 - Carmit Altman

PI2 - Sharon Armon-Lotem

PI3 - Joel Walters


Coordinator - Hadar Arnon

Second language (L2) performance is a key skill for educational integration. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers can often tell that the language of a child is not what is expected for her age, but they are insecure about disentangling language impairment from an interlanguage of a typically developing L2 learner. Variation in bilingual language acquisition due to SLI or lower SES may impact not only on language development but also on identity and self-esteem which are correlated with school performance and well-being. Preschool teachers and assistants, special education teachers, school psychologists, and even SLPs are not always familiar with the basic milestones of bilingual, low SES language development in early childhood. Educational plans are developed without considering basic research in language acquisition culturally diverse students’ needs. Parents, especially those from low SES minority culture backgrounds, are anxious, even intimidated, in meetings with professionals. And policy is often made without access to information about available assessment tools and usually without taking into account the complexities of multiple languages in the home, the neighborhood or the school. The initial phase of ISF 863/14 from kindergarten children (2014-2016) highlighted the need to expand data collection to include a wider range of measures of school readiness and emergent literacy.

The present proposal aims to fill this gap in order to improve our understanding of the impact of SES and SLI on emergent literacy and school readiness among bilingual children by extending data collection in kindergarten to include measures of emergent literacy and school readiness, including phonological awareness, memory, cognitive, narrative, and pre-literacy tasks and by enhancing the measures of reading in Grade 1. Such data, when compared with our available data from bilinguals from high SES and monolinguals from low SES, will help identify which oral measures of emergent literacy are the strongest predictors of academic success among these disadvantaged populations. This will make our findings relevant for developing language and literacy enrichment programs on language diversity in bilingual and low SES populations. These programs will target pre-service and in-service teacher training as well as parents of children from homes with two languages and/or socioeconomic disadvantages.


The present project will contribute to: (a) a stronger research base for decisions about diagnosing and educating children with SLI from bilingual backgrounds in a single (home or school) language or bilingually;(b) increased knowledge of professionals (preschool teachers, teachers’ assistants, SLPs) who work with children from low SES backgrounds, facilitating better referrals, more precise evaluations and more effective and tailored educational plans;(c) parent education about language development in general and language development among children from bilingual backgrounds, dispelling myths about the disadvantages of growing up with two languages.

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