Researchers Get $2.3 Million Grant to Help Bilingual First Graders Overcome Language Impairments

Speech-language researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help Central Texas first graders from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds overcome language impairments.

Communication Sciences and Disorders Associate Professor Lisa Bedore and Professor Elizabeth Peña will use the grant to develop a unique language intervention program addressing language and literacy -- together -- for bilingual first graders with language impairments as they begin to access school language and literacy. This is a unique approach because language impairments and literacy needs are often addressed separately.

During the first year, researchers will work with about 24 children to refine the intervention. In the next four years Bedore and Peña will work with 216 children in school districts around Austin.

Language impairments include difficulty learning and using language rules -- in particular grammatical development, usage and vocabulary -- in children who have no other disabilities that would explain their language delays.

"We will draw from our body of research on the nuances of speech language acquisition among bilingual children to develop and test a systematic program that will simultaneously address language and literacy impairments in both English and Spanish," said Bedore. "The hope is to develop a program that could be implemented by school-based speech language pathologists to help bilingual children overcome language impairments and go on to succeed academically."

Children with risk for language impairment are also at-risk for literacy difficulties, which are typically identified after first grade. Among bilingual children, language impairments tend to be identified later relative to their monolingual peers.

"If we can intervene in first grade it may be possible to provide children with the tools they need to effectively improve their language performance and also prevent later reading difficulties," Peña said.

For more information about Bedore and Peña's research on language acquisition among bilingual children, read the story "Difference or Disorder."