Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Do Older Siblings Help Preschoolers Learn English?

Last week I received a press release announcing that two researchers from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education had won a $40,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to study language acquisition in Latino preschoolers. The study is already under way, and the researchers were willing to share some preliminary findings from their work via email.

The study is tracking more than 100 Latino families with young children in central Virginia. The researchers, Amanda Kibler and Natalia Palacios, are using observations, interviews and standard tests of early language development to assess the youngsters’ language progress in both English and Spanish. The Spencer grant will support more home observations plus at least one year of school observations once the children start kindergarten.

A key aspect of the home observations will focus on how young children with older siblings (school-age and using English) acquire and use language, Kibler said via email. Kibler says currently very little research exists to document how older siblings affect language acquisition and use among Latino children. I’m glad to see researchers tackling this questions. Just observationally, around my neighborhood it seems pretty clear to me that Latino children with school-age siblings who speak English acquire and use English more rapidly than those without,  but I’m not a researcher.

Another preliminary finding shows a link between children sleeping an extra hour at night and having bedtime stories read to them in Spanish by their mothers. So far, the same association is not apparent with English reading. Kibler says the finding suggests some Spanish-speaking recent immigrants are using night-time routines as an opportunity for structured reading but couldn’t say more.  Though I know correlation doesn’t equal causation, I’m tempted to stress Spanish language stories at bedtime (usually we read in both languages) and see if my son will sleep longer!