Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB)

Language, Bilingualism, and Biliteracy Program

The Language, Bilingualism, and Biliteracy program supports and encourages research in three closely related and often integrated areas:

  • Language development and psycholinguistics, from infancy through early adulthood;
  • Bilingualism and/or second-language acquisition; and
  • Reading in bilingual and/or English-language learning (ELL) children and youth.

Of particular interest are developmental studies that identify and make clear the cognitive, linguistic, social, cultural, socio-environmental, geographic, environmental, instructional, and neurobiological factors related to language, bilingualism and biliteracy. The Program, by virtue of its focus on bilingualism and ELL students' languages and literacy, has a special interest in minority and language-minority populations as well as in speakers of dialects of English within the United States that have implications for learning and reading.

Language development. The Program supports research on all aspects of normative language development, including phenotype, phonological, semantic, syntactic, communicative, and metalinguistic development. Emergent and early literacy is a special interest of this Program, including studies of the relation of oral language development to the emergence of early literacy activities and language development in other modalities (sign language). Studies of the cognitive aspects of language development and language processing in children, youth, and adults are also relevant to the full understanding of language and its neurobiological substrate.

Bilingualism. The Program supports studies of the factors that characterize, promote, or impede the acquisition of languages in addition to the first or native language and the development of bilingualism. Topics of study include the effects of home language use on maintenance of bilingualism, skill transfer across languages, the cognitive aspects of bilingualism, and the underlying neurobiology of bilingual language processes.

Biliteracy. The research Program supports research that addresses bilingual reading development. The portfolio includes studies of topics such as whether reading in the first language promotes or impedes English-language reading abilities for ELL students; the effects of oral language ability on biliteracy development; the identification of optimal methods for intervention for struggling ELL students; and the neurobiology and genetics of reading and reading disabilities in bilingual individuals and across languages with differing internal language structures and/or orthographies or across sensory modalities (bimodal bilingualism — signing plus oral language). This portfolio includes studies of factors that promote or impede the acquisition of English-language reading and writing abilities among children for whom English is a second language. Work on measurement/assessment of reading and related areas in bilingual and ELL individuals is encouraged.

An additional major goal of this Program is to obtain converging scientific evidence to inform the development and application of assessment and instructional approaches and strategies to develop robust literacy skills. Such strategies and approaches will also help to prevent or remediate reading and writing difficulties and disabilities among children whose first language is not English and among bilingual or multilingual children.

Program Director: Ruben Alvarez

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