Date of Award:

5-2019

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Advisor/Chair:

Lisa K. Boyce

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Aryn M. Dotterer

Third Advisor:

E. Helen Berry

Abstract

Children from non-English-speaking homes often lag behind their English speaking peers academically. However, people who speak two languages often have better executive functioning skills than people who speak only one language. Executive functions are neurologically-based skills related to managing oneself to achieve a goal. The relation between bilingualism and executive function may be due to how two languages are processed in the brain. However, it is unclear if more balanced bilinguals experience larger gains in executive function than people who are less balanced.

Children from low-income homes are at a disadvantage as compared to children from homes with higher incomes. A quarter of children in the Head Start program, which serves children from low-income homes, come from homes that speak a language other than English which puts them at a double disadvantage. Longitudinal data from 3-year-old children enrolled in Head Start who were from Spanish-speaking households were used to investigate whether there were different patterns of dual language development and if those patterns related differently to executive function.

Results revealed three groups of dual language development. Groups were compared in terms of children’s performance on a nonverbal executive functioning task. Results showed that children in the group that had the most similar proficiency between English and Spanish had the highest average executive functioning scores, even after controlling for child age and gender. This indicates balanced bilingualism may enjoy additional benefits to executive functioning development as compared to individuals with relative imbalance between languages.

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