Guest lecture: Language and literacy networks revealed through childhood bilingualism

Ioulia Kovelman, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, will give a talk on how insights given by bilingual children can inform our understanding of both universal and language-specific mechanisms in the neurobiology of language development.

Ioulia Kovelman

Ioulia Kovelman (Photo: Private)

Abstract

Learning to read changes the mind and brain. In my research I harness the study of this change to understand the impact of bilingualism on language and neural plasticity. 

Learning to read builds upon and interacts with children’s spoken language competence. First, I will argue that early and systematic bilingual exposure yields timely acquisition of each of the bilinguals’ languages as well as language-specific neural representations. We will then turn our attention to literacy. Monolingual evidence suggests that cross-linguistic differences in learning to read stem from, and are reinforced by, differences in the underlying spoken language structure. Does this mean that young bilinguals form dual, monolingual-like systems for each of their languages when learning to read? Our investigation of Spanish-English and Chinese-English bilinguals (children ages 6–12) suggests that the answer is both yes and no. Bilingual children do develop literacy systems and neurodevelopmental trajectories that are largely comparable to monolingual speakers of their two languages. However, there is also evidence that young readers may transfer literacy skills across their languages, suggesting that the two language systems have both shared and discrete resources. I will conclude this presentation by critical evaluation of how the study of bilingualism informs our understanding of both universal and language-specific mechanisms in the neurobiology of language development.

Published May 25, 2018 3:52 PM - Last modified May 25, 2018 3:59 PM