Bilingual Language and Reading

Reading is one of the most important skills learned in early childhood. Unfortunately, bilingual learners —15% of the US public school population—often fail to meet national standards in reading achievement. The variation in bilinguals’ reading proficiency makes it difficult to differentiate typically developing learners from those with learning disabilities. To improve bilinguals’ reading achievement and better support those with dyslexia, we must first understand how bilingualism affects child literacy.

One way to do this is to identify how bilingual children’s neural pathways develop when learning to read.The primary objective is to explain the effects of bilingualism on children’s neural architecture for learning to read. Our guiding hypothesis is that bilinguals’ developing neurocognitive systems are affected by children’s proficiency with specific characteristics of their heritage language. To test this hypothesis, we will capitalize on the cross-linguistic differences between Spanish and Chinese. We will use a combined neuro-cognitive approach to help disambiguate the high variability in bilinguals’ reading performance, a powerful approach that we have previously used to characterize neurobiology of reading ability and its antecedents in monolinguals of varied age/reading ability. Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) is silent, portable, child friendly, and can differentiate anatomically adjacent subtypes of language processing. We will use behavioral and neuroimaging measures in each of the children’s languages, testing young bilinguals.