The development of cognitive processes and English language abilities : the case of early English language learners in a multilingual South African setting

White, Michelle Jennifer (2018-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study was to investigate the development of English language skills and the processes which underlie these skills in English Language Learners (ELLs) who are in their first year of formal schooling, Grade R. Twenty seven ELL participants were assessed longitudinally, three times over the course of their Grade R year, on an English language assessment battery, including the domains of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, along with a vocabulary test. Additionally, the processes underlying language acquisition were assessed with the use of working memory tasks, two phonological working memory tasks and two visuospatial working memory tasks. The English language and working memory development of the 27 ELLs were compared to seven English monolingual classmates in order to determine how their trajectory and rate of development related to one another. A total of nine different first languages (L1s) were represented in the ELL group, namely (ordered from that spoken by most of the highest to the lowest number of ELLs) isiXhosa, Shona, French, Swahili, isiZulu, Sesotho, Oshiwambo, Igbo and Cameroonian Pidgin English. Moreover, most of the ELL group knew at least one language besides their L1 and English. All participants were from one low socio-economic status school, where the sole language of learning and teaching (LoLT) is English. South Africa, with its 11 official languages and several other minority languages, is linguistically and culturally diverse, yet English continues to be the preferred LoLT (Heugh, 2000). Many South African children are thus ELLs who have little English proficiency upon entering school. The differing levels of English proficiency at school entry, together with a wide range of first languages in one classroom, pose teaching challenges. One of these challenges is that a certain level of proficiency in English is required to perform well academically in an English-medium school. It is widely accepted that academic success is highly dependent on language competence (Hoff, 2005; Owens, 2008), entailing that an understanding of the underlying processes related to language is crucial for assisting learners to perform well academically. Moreover, measures of non-linguistic processing, such as working memory, provide important information on language development in multilingual contexts (Paradis, 2010). Results from this study showed evidence for the three distinctions within working memory stipulated by Baddeley and Hitch (1974): the phonological loop, the visuospatial sketchpad and the central executive. The phonological loop and the central executive were found to be implicated in the ELLs’ English language development. It was also found that their performance on the tasks assessing these two components were predictive of outcomes on certain language domains. Furthermore, this study also found that both the ELLs and the English monolinguals showed a comparable growth trajectory to each other on the language as well as the working memory tasks. These findings contribute to the broadening of our knowledge of bilingual development, in the domains of working memory and English language learning. The South African education system is in crisis and further studies, such as this one, are needed in order to better inform practical solutions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van hierdie studie was om die ontwikkeling van Engelse taalvaardighede en die onderliggende prosesse van taalaanleer te ondersoek in Leerders van die Engelse Taal (LETs) wat in hulle eerste jaar van formele skoolonderrig, Graad R, is. Sewe en twintig LET-deelnemers is drie maal gedurende hulle Graad R-jaar getoets met ʼn Engelse taalassesseringsbattery, wat die sintaksis-, semantiek- en pragmatiekdomeine geassesseer het, asook met ‘n woordeskattoets. Verder is die onderliggende prosesse van taalaanleer getoets met werkende geheue-take: twee fonologiese en twee visueel-ruimtelike werkende geheue-take. Die Engelse taalontwikkeling sowel as die werkende geheue-ontwikkeling van die 27 LETs is vergelyk met dié van sewe eentalige, Engelssprekende klasmaats om te bepaal wat die verwantskap tussen die twee groepe se spoed en trajek van ontwikkeling is. Nege verskillende eerste tale is deur die LET groep gepraat, naamlik (in volgorde van die taal wat deur die meeste nad die minste LETs gepraat is) isiXhosa, Shona, Frans, Swahili, isiZulu, Sesotho, Oshiwambo, Igbo en Kameroense Pidgin-Engels. Verder het die deelnemers in die LET-groep reeds minstens een taal buiten hul eerste taal en Engels geken. Al die deelnemers was van dieselfde skool, een met ʼn lae sosio-ekonomiese status, waar die enigste taal van leer en onderrig Engels is. Suid Afrika het 11 amptelike tale en verskeie ander minderheidstale, en is dus kultureel en talig divers; tog bly Engels die voorkeur taal van leer en onderrig (Heugh, 2000). Menige Suid Afrikaanse kinders is dus LETs en het lae Engelse taalvaardighede wanneer hulle skoolgaande ouderdom bereik. Die verskillende vlakke van Engelse taalvaardigheid met skoolaanvang, tesame met die wye verskeidenheid eerste tale in een klaskamer, lei tot onderrig-uitdagings. Een van dié uitdagings is dat ‘n sekere vlak van Engelse taalvaardigheid verlang word om akademies goed te kan presteer in ‘n Engels-medium skool. Daar word algemeen aanvaar dat akademiese sukses hoogs afhanklik is van taalvaardigheid (Hoff, 2005; Owens, 2008), wat beteken dat dit noodsaaklik is om die onderliggende prosesse van taalaanleer te verstaan as leerders ondersteun gaan word om akademies optimaal te presteer. Voorts verskaf take wat die onderliggende prosesse van taalaanleer meet, soos take van werkende geheue, belangrike inligting oor taalontwikkeling in meertalige kontekste (Paradis, 2010). Die resultate van die huidige studie het bewyse getoon vir die drie onderskeidings binne werkende geheue, wat deur Baddeley en Hitch (1974) gehipotetiseer is: die fonologiese baan, die visueel-ruimtelike sketsblok en die sentrale uitvoerder. Die studie het ook aangetoon dat die fonologiese baan en die sentrale uitvoerder betrokke is by die Engelse taalontwikkeling van die LETs. Daar is verder bevind dat die resultate van die take wat hierdie twee komponente meet, voorspellend is van uitkomste op sekere taalgebiede. Die studie het ook bevind dat die Engels eerste taal- en LET-groepe se groei-trajek vergelykbaar met mekaar is. Hierdie bevindinge dra by tot die verbreding van ons kennis oor tweetalige ontwikkeling, beide op die gebied van werkende geheue sowel as Engelse taalaanleer. Die Suid Afrikaanse onderwyssisteem is in ‘n krisis en verdere studies soos hierdie een word benodig om praktiese oplossings vir die krisis te vind.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/104913
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