Children from less privileged families, even without hearing impairment, autistic traits and other anomalies, often encounter difficulties in learning languages – much as it’s their mother tongue. The lack of input due to deprived resources results in delays in language development; a widely recognised challenge is the word gap between children in high- and middle-income families and children in low-income families. Children’s ability to communicate underpins their cognitive and social development in the early years of life, predictive of their later educational success and career opportunities – can we give these kids a leg up?
The team is taking up the challenge of closing this gap by implementing an intervention programme for pre-school children identified with low vocabulary scores among those from less privileged backgrounds. On top of a teacher-led communicative approach of instruction, the team is tailoring a mobile app with interactive learning games based on data collected from background vocabulary and word processing tests on participating children. By offering professional and practical assistance, the team champions equal opportunities and access to language learning for the neglected.
The team expects an increased awareness of the importance of enriched language input and the stimulating effect it has on children’s healthy cognitive and social development. The potential of underprivileged children, who show improvement in confidence and ability in communication, may be realised via opportunities opened up by the intervention programme.
– Kindergarteners, parents and teachers
Virginia founded the Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre in 2008 and has served as its Director for 11 years. She also directs the newly established University of Cambridge-CUHK Joint Lab for Bilingualism. Her work in the last two decades has focused on bilingualism and language acquisition from a psycholinguistic perspective and she has won the Leonard Bloomfield Book Award by the Linguistics Society of America in 2009. Virginia received her BA and MA from University of Texas at Austin and PhD from University of Southern California.
Maggie’s research focuses on second language acquisition and childhood bilingualism. She has been working on projects investigating the development, maintenance, loss and revival of Chinese in younger learners in bilingual contexts. She is also experienced in assessing children’s language and cognitive abilities. Maggie received her first degree from Peking University and studied in University of Cambridge for her PhD, where she received education and training in theoretical and applied linguistics.