Children have better literacy and concentrate better in class if they are deeply immersed in two languages either in school or at home, a childhood bilingualism researcher says.
Francesca La Morgia from Trinity College Dublin is examining the benefits of education in Irish-language schools but said children brought up in homes where they regularly speak a second language show the same positive outcomes.
“You need to be exposed to a language sufficiently over the course of a day in order to in order to acquire it, whether at home or in a school context,” she said.
As assistant professor in clinical speech and language studies at TCD, her work is predominantly looking at total immersion in Irish at gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools and the impact of bilingualism on pupils.
“There are benefits for their literacy, they learn to read and write very early. They can transfer their abilities from one language to the other, and find it easier to learn another language... because they’ve got the flexibility and experience,” she said.
The findings may equally apply to children of one or more non-Irish parents where a language other than English or Irish is the main use in the home.
But, Ms La Morgia noted, it is essential that the children use the language themselves as well as listening to it.
She said children have improved attention and ability to focus when they are raised with two languages, whether or not they are taught in an Irish-medium school.
Ms La Morgia is planning further research to measure the communication competencies in Irish of students at all-Irish second-level schools.
Her current work is funded by Foras na Gaeilge and feeds into the wider Irish Network in Childhood Bilingualism and Multilingualism, funded by the Trinity Long Room Hub (TCD’s arts and humanities research institute) and the Teaching Council.
At a meeting of the network in TCD last week, academics and educational experts shared research on bilingual education for children with speech, language and communication difficulties.
Gaeloideachas chief executive, Bláthnaid ní Ghréacháin, said there is a misperception that children with special educational needs will not cope, or are not represented, in schools where everything is taught through Irish.
But, she said, research shows that they do as well in bilingual settings as they would in an English-medium school and that bilingual education may even be the better option for many children, including those with autism.
Ms La Morgia said a growing body of international research shows that the advantages of greater confidence and increased educational attainment associated with bilingual education are available to all children, including those with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Down syndrome or other special educational needs.
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