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Narrative Discourse in Bilingual Children: Language and Task Effects

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  1. Narrative Discourse in Bilingual Children: Language and Task Effects Fiestas , C.E. and Pena, E.D. 2004

  2. INTRODUCTION: • Children in different language and cultural communities may exhibit differences in discourse production especially in narratives. These differences are found in story length, the amount of descriptive information given, the personal relationships of the characters, the sequence of action and the predominant verb tense. (Berman & Slobin 1994; Bocaz, 1986 ; Guiterrez-Clellen, Pena, & Quinn, 1995)

  3. Narratives of bilingual children: The studies in this area are limited and suggest that bilingual children may produce different narratives in each of their two languages. (Bayley &Pease-Alvarez,1997) • Research is inconclusive as to whether these differences are a matter of: • *variation of bilingual language proficiency. • *linguistic structural differences. • *cultural differences related to the acquisition of the two languages. • Therefore, it is important to determine if differences exist in narrative skills of bilingual children with relatively equal proficiency in both languages.

  4. Why is a documentation of bilingual ?narrative production needed • It can be used as an assessment tool for children with language impairments and learning disabilities.(Bolting, 2002; Hadely, 1998; Merritt & Liles, 1989) • Studies show a correlation of children’s narrative language skills to both the acquisition of literacy and academic performance. • Narrative assessment is a less biased alternative to standardized testing because cultures all over the world use narratives to relate and interpret experience. (Cloud,1991; Gutierrez-Clellen, 1995;Jax,1998; Oller & Damico, 1991) • Therefore, one must be able to describe typical performance and understand normal variation among groups of children in bilingual environments. (Gutierrez-Clellen, &Iglasias,1992 Langdon,1992;Valdes & Figueroa, 1994)

  5. Crosscultural Variation in Narrative Production: • Cultural differences may play a large role in the types of narratives that children produce because children learn from the narrative examples produced by their families and their culture. For example, the narrative style of U.S Latino culture varies from mainstream American culture. Thus, it was reported that Latino children narrated descriptive information related to family and personal relationships while European North American children narrated sequences of events.(Cazden,1986; Silva & McCabe, 1996)

  6. Crosslinguistic Variation in Narrative Production: • Narrative differences may also be due to linguistic factors; such as, tense, aspect, locative movement, connectivity and rhetorical style which vary across languages. (German and Slohin, 1994) • For English and Spanish comparison, the systematic differences were found in: encoding motion( climb up in English vs. ascend in Spanish) , marking the subject ( overt subject in English vs. subject marked in verb morphology in Spanish) and use of verb tense ( past tense in English vs. present progressive in Spanish) • Evidence from studies demonstrates that bilingual children employ language specific linguistic devices to formulate narratives in each of their languages, but are grammatical in each of their languages.

  7. Narrative Differences due to Contextual Support: • Narrative performance may be influenced by: • The contextual support offered by the elicitation techniques such as a picture, a game, a film , a book or mere memory. • The topic of the narrative • Studies demonstrate that the amount of contextual support provided by the elicitation procedure and the previous knowledge and experience with a topic will affect the complexity of the children’s stories.

  8. COMPLEXITY: • The complexity of narratives is assessed by: • Afory grammar which is a specific set of rules about what makes up a story. (Bamberg, 1987). These elements include: setting/ initiating event/ internal response or plan / attempts / consequences and ending. (Applebee, 1978; Gillam et al.,1995; Hughes et al., 1997) • Story length, number of C-units (A C-unit is defined as the independent clause plus its modifiers) and number of words. (Leadholm & Miller, 1995) • Grammaticality and dialect use. (Gutierrez et al., 2000)

  9. Table 1: Story Grammar Elements

  10. Expectation for Bilinguals • Linguistic differences, crosscultural differences and elicitation procedures may all impact bilingual children’s performance on discourse tasks. Thus, it is important to examine: • The effect of language of elicitation and elicitation technique on narrative performance. • The productivity, grammaticality and complexity of narratives which provide insight into the cognitive narrative schema of bilingual children. • The existence of possible linguistic trade-offs between languages.

  11. Purpose of Study: • The purposes of the study were to: • Compare the narrative skills of Spanish/English bilingual children across both of their languages in two different narrative contexts • Analyze two types of narrative elicitation stimuli ,both high and low contextual support, in their ability to elicit a complex and productive narrative from bilingual Spanish/English elementary school-aged children.

  12. Methods: • Participants: 12 bilingual Latino American children (6 boys and 6 girls) between the ages of 4;0(years; months) and 6;11 were selected. All children were TD according to parent and school report. All were fluent in Spanish and English. On average, children had 63% input in Spanish and 37% input in English. • Procedure: Four narratives were elicited from the children, using two elicitation tasks ( a wordless book task and a picture task of a birthday party) in each language in two sessions over a 2-4 week period. Each session was conducted in one language, and children were asked to generate two narratives in that language. • Transcription and Coding: All narratives were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim by bilingual research assistants. The transcripts were segmented into communication units ( C-units).

  13. Narratives were analyzed for; • story grammar by examining whether children included at least once the story elements in TABLE 1. The picture task was not coded for story grammar since it yielded mixed results. • Overall Complexity by using a range from 0-7 based on what story elements were included as in TABLE 2. • Productivity by using the SALT (The Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts) to measure mean length of C –units in words (MLC-Words), number of C units and number of words. • Grammaticality : by coding each utterance being grammatical [G], ungrammatical [U] and influenced [I] which was considered grammatical as well. • Reliability: by rating the stories by two raters independently.

  14. Table 2 : Complexity score

  15. RESULTS: • Story Complexity : Book Task • Children told stories of relatively equal complexity in Spanish (M=5.08)and in English (M=4.75). However, when the story grammar elements were compared , there was a significant main effect for narrative elements F(6,66)=10.194, p<.001 and a significant language *narrative element interaction p=.034.In Spanish, children included the elements initiating event and attempt more frequently than they did in English.(p<0.05) In English , children included consequence more frequently than they did in Spanish (p<0,05) FIGURE 1

  16. Figure 1. Comparison of Performance for Individual Story Grammar Elements in both Spanish and English

  17. Story Complexity: Picture task • Scoring the story grammar elements was not considered appropriate for the picture task because this type of task elicited mixed results. Children interpreted the task differently and produced description of routines and sequential action of a general birthday party without telling a story.

  18. Productivity : Book Task • Results demonstrated no main effect with language or significant interactions with language. F=(1,11)=0.634, P=.443. The means for the productivity measures in Spanish and English were comparable.( TABLE 3)

  19. Table 3: Language comparison of mean (standard deviation) productive measures for each task (N=12)

  20. Productivity: Picture Task • The picture task yielded similar results to the book task in that there was no significant main effect of language on any of the three productivity measures, and there were no significant interactions with language. F(1,11)=0.032, p=0.862. The means for the productivity measures in Spanish and English were very similar .(TABLE 3)

  21. Grammaticality: Book and Picture Task • Results for the grammatical measures showed no significant main effects for task(p=.915) or language (p=.068)for the percentage of grammatically correct utterances and no significant interactions. Children demonstrated comparable proportions of grammatical utterances in both languages across both tasks (TABLE 4) although there was a slightly higher percentage of grammatical utterances in Spanish. On the other hand, examination of the percentage of influenced utterances demonstrated a significant main effect for language .(p=0.001). Children used more Spanish-influenced English utterances for the book task than they did English –influenced Spanish utterances for the book task.

  22. Table 4: Task and language comparison of mean (standard deviation) grammatical measures (N=12)

  23. DISCUSSION • LANGUAGE EFFECTS: • COMPLEXITY: Children told stories that were equally complex in both Spanish and English in the wordless picture book task. However, there were contrasts between the Spanish and English narratives with respect to the children’s inclusion of specific story grammar elements; i.e. initiating event and attempt in Spanish and a consequence in English. Reasons for this difference could be: • A bicultural difference may yield a difference in including specific story grammar elements. • A different exposure to stories and vocabulary of storytelling in school as compared to at home. • Further study with a large sample is needed .

  24. PRODUCTIVITY: All three productivity measures were comparable in Spanish and English for both narrative tasks. It appears that children’s expectations about story length and how much information to verbalize given a specific narrative task is an interrelated skill in both languages of these bilingual children. The productivity aspect of narrative language skill might be more likely to transfer from one language to another.( Cummins,1991)

  25. TASK EFFECTS: • The elicitation procedure or language of the task did not significantly affect the grammaticality of the children’s utterances. • Children’s discourse differed in productive and grammatical measures when elicited by the wordless picture book or the picture regardless of language. • WHY? • The contextual support offered by pictures of consecutive events as in the book task may have allowed children to use utterances that were longer and more complex and decreased dependence on memory or imagination to sustain their discourse. (Coelho, Liles, & Duffy, 1990) • On the other hand, the birthday picture may have invited more of a script and a limited personal narrative. The results of the picture narratives were mixed between telling a story about the picture and telling a personal narrative. However, the picture task did elicit a fairly long discourse sample in both languages because it was culturally relevant and of high interest to the children.

  26. Results showed significant language by task effects concerning the number of influenced utterances. In the book task , the children used more Spanish-influenced utterances, and for the picture task , more English-influenced utterances. • WHY? • The children were sequential bilinguals learning Spanish first at home, and then English later at school. Because the book task required more complex stories, children were able to produce complex stories in English by using Spanish-influenced utterances. • The increase of Spanish-influenced utterances is a linguistic trade-off , occurring because children were able to produce more complex utterances through decreasing self monitoring of their English grammar.

  27. The types of influenced grammar were qualitatively different by language: In English, influences were on verb usage, pronoun omission and syntactic ones. In Spanish, influences were strictly code-switching at the word and phrase level. • Children, whose Spanish was their first language, did not use the types of English-influenced Spanish that Spanish second language learners use.

  28. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Clinicians should use caution in using just any discourse task as a narrative task since cues and stimuli used to elicit narratives may not yield comparable results. LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY: Mixed results were obtained from the picture task. It was not a useful comparison against the book task for measures of complexity and productivity. The small sample size and age range of the children did not provide sufficient data to describe typical development of the narrative skills of this population of both languages.