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  1. McCardle, Peggy PhD, MPH, Issue Editor
  2. Leung, Christy Y. Y. BS Issue Editor

Article Content

English language learning (ELL) students are the fastest growing subgroup in the U.S. public school population, with an annual increase of approximately 10% (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2003, cited in McCardle, Mele-McCarthy, Cutting, Leos, & D'Emilio, 2005). Educating these children and addressing any special language and literacy learning needs is a national priority, and one that requires guidance from solid research.


Despite the ongoing need for research, much has been learned in recent years about the language and literacy development of ELL students. In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders (TLD), we seek to present a portion of what has been learned. The articles in this issue address the language and literacy development of young language minority children who are being raised and schooled in the United States, where the majority language is English and the language of instruction ultimately is English.


Language acquisition and the development of reading skills differ in that reading requires formal instruction, whereas early language development does not. On the other hand, successful reading depends heavily on language ability. This issue of TLD is divided in a way that may seem arbitrary-language and literacy. Clearly, although researchers, teachers, and clinicians do not understand fully the nature of the links between language and literacy, we do know that the two are inextricably linked. Thus, in fact, the two sections do represent an arbitrary division, but one that is intended to make the complex information more accessible to readers faced with addressing the practical, everyday issues of supporting bilingual children in their acquisition of language and literacy abilities.


In Section I, Language, Goldstein offers an overview of current knowledge and the challenges of recognizing differences between limited English proficiency and language disorders in bilingual or ELL children, and presents clinical and practical implications of these research studies. Hammer and Miccio report their findings on preschool language development and the beginnings of literacy. This article identifies factors contributing to children's success in early reading and highlights the importance of intervention for young children, especially those with lower socioeconomic status. Early language development, how early any language difficulties are recognized, and types of early literacy activity to which they are exposed bear importantly on bilingual children's later literacy development.


In Section II, Literacy, three articles guide the reader to consider language factors that must be taken into account in the development of reading among ELL students. In the first, Paez and Rinaldi report English vocabulary, English phonological awareness, and Spanish word reading skills in kindergarten as significant predictors of reading ability in first grade. In the second, August, Snow, Carlo, Proctor, Rolla San Francisco, Duursma, and Szuber examine the issue of transfer of skills across languages. They also take into account the important role of home literacy and language environment, as well the language of instruction in the schools, for the development of bilingual children's reading and language abilities over time. In the third article in the literacy section, Pollard-Durodola, Mathes, Vaughn, Cardenas- Hagan, and Linan-Thompson discuss the role of oral language in reading interventions with ELL students. They also describe how additional oral language activities may enhance comprehension skills.


Most of the articles in this issue address language and literacy development in Spanish-speaking ELL students, and the specifics are thus focused on the linguistic and cultural characteristics of Spanish and Hispanics. The implications are broader than a single language group, however. Approaches to assessing, teaching, and intervening with ELL students are not restricted to a single language or culture. The recognition of risk factors and the types of skills that can be helpful in predicting potential success or difficulty in literacy development are common across many languages (Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004). Although the adaptations that optimize the appropriateness and utility of instructional methods and interventions for ELL students may have some language-specific aspects, most of the larger issues of approach are applicable to ELL students regardless of first language.


The information contained in this issue of TLD should be useful to various professionals dealing with ELL students: those responsible for classroom instruction, identification of those ELL students in need of more intensive instruction for language and literacy development, assessment for learning difficulties and intervention based on that assessment, or coaching those providing instruction or intervention. The more everyone involved in the education of ELL students knows about the processes of language and literacy development, and about specific adaptations of procedures and materials that optimize learning for ELL students, the better education we will be able to provide to these deserving students.


Research agencies continue to fund research, and researchers continue to investigate how students learn, to develop better measures for identification of students with difficulties, and to test interventions to determine which ones work best for which students, and under what conditions. At the same time, the information already gained by researchers should be shared with teachers, supervisors, reading specialists, speech-language pathologists, special educators, and all those involved day to day in working with ELL students. Ongoing communication such as that offered in TLD that facilitates the translation of research to daily practice is crucial to educating our students. We hope that this issue of TLD will not only inform practice but will also entice practitioners to read current research reports of work that has not yet been translated to practice, and participate and assist in that process.


Peggy McCardle, PhD, MPH, Issue Editor


Acting Chief, Child Development & Behavior Branch Center for Research for Mothers & Children National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Rockville, Maryland


Christy Y. Y. Leung, BS Issue Editor


University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland




Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. B. (2004). Assessment and intervention for children with dual language disorders. In S. F. Warren & M. E. Fey (Eds.), Dual Language Development & Disorders (Vol. 11, pp. 193-213). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. [Context Link]


McCardle, P., Mele-McCarthy, J., Cutting, L., Leos, K., & D'Emilio, T. (2005). Learning disabilities in English language learners: Identifying the issues. Learning Disabilities: Research & Practice, 20(1), 1-5. [Context Link]