A new publication! 👉 https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12723
In this paper, we started with the premise that a bilingual child’s home language is a strength, and that we can build on this strength even when assessing the language of school. When I wrote the draft, I was thinking of the analogy of climbing a rockface. For monolingual children, they have many footholds for learning in the classroom as they can directly use their home language to learn in the classroom. For children who speak a different language at home, they do not have these footholds. But they are not without climbing abilities, they can transfer their home language, they can use their fast-mapping, and benefit from social contexts for learning in the classroom.
Starting with this idea, we developed a task that builds on children’s ability to transfer knowledge, to fast map, and to use social context for learning new words. The task is pretty cool! We didn’t want children to need to know the words in the language of school – and we hoped they could use their knowledge of home language. So, we searched for words that have similar phonological forms and meaning across languages (i.e., cognates as defined by Crystal, 2011). The words also had to be familiar to young children and an object… so we ended up with banana, taxi and kangaroo. Yep! These words are quite similar across languages that are from different families. We also introduced ‘new words’ that were possible word shapes across languages. These words were embedded in a play-based task.
The kindergarten children who took part in the study spoke one or two of 13 different languages at home. They were able to learn ‘new words’ in a 20-minute dynamic learning task. Amazing word learners!