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Multilingualism seminar

Literacy outcomes in northern Ghana / The effect of multilingual exposure on autism

22 November 2018, 13:00 – 14:30

Room GR05, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 9 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP

Silenced by Language? An Empirical Analysis of Literacy Outcomes During Language of Instruction Transition in Northern Ghana

Kieran Daly, Emma Carter and Ricardo Sabates

This presentation will explore the effects of mother tongue-based education (MTBE), and an alternative approach, ‘language matching’ in northern Ghana, with a view to shedding light on how such programmes might affect literacy learning outcomes. The presentation will provide insights into the educational and linguistic challenges facing learners in multilingual regions of the Global South, and how such programmes might be tailored to have the most productive impact. In the process, it explores barriers to such implementation within these regions, and the complex linguistic and sociolinguistic issues that MTBE programmes will have to overcome at the point of implementation and design. In this seminar, a combination of quantitative analysis, based on Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) test scores from learners partaking in the accelerated learning MTBE Complementary Basic Education (CBE) programme of northern Ghana, and qualitative analysis, that embeds the data within its broader, sociolinguistic context, will be presented. It concludes that ‘language matching’ is one technique that might be employed to overcome some of the above issues. ‘Language matching’ seeks to transition learners who complete short-term MTBE programmes to a linguistically and sociolinguistically similar language in formal school. This allows them to maintain and develop linguistic knowledge learned in MTBE and continue to learn within a culturally appropriate environment. While such an approach is not always feasible, the obstacles in its implementation are not insurmountable. It can, moreover, give nations that do not hold the resources to create curricula in every indigenous language the chance to provide linguistic minorities with a quality education, improving learning outcomes for the most disadvantaged. 

Key Words: Mother Tongue Education, Typological Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Complementary Basic Education Ghana, Mixed Methods


Does multilingual exposure have an effect on the prevalence of autistic symptomatology? 

S. K. Crockford, O. Ozturk, N. Katsos, J. L. Gibson, A. Remington, L. Kenny & J. Brinkert 

Background: Current research suggests multilingualism may have a significant impact on various aspects of autism. Recent evidence shows that multilingual autistic individuals demonstrate improved executive function and communicative competence.1,2,3,4 All of the mentioned abilities are abilities that are also found to be generally deficit in autism.5,6,7 This leads open the question as to how multilingualism may interact with autistic aetiology. If multilingualism affects a number of autistic deficits, it is possible that it could interact with the way in which autistic traits are expressed. Therefore, this study hopes to investigate the relationship between multilingualism and the prevalence of autistic symptomatology.

Method: To date 31 monolingual and bilingual autistic participants, as well as 80 neurotypical peers aged between 3 and 19 took part in the study, with further recruitment taking place. We plan to include a final sample of 100 autistic and 100 neurotypical participants. Data included a self- and/or parent-reported multilingualism questionnaire, with questions regarding proficiency and frequency of use per language reported, and the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), a validated measure of autistic traits. The SRS scale includes five subscales, awareness, cognition, communication, mannerism and motivation, and is measured using a 4-point Likert scale.

Results: We firstly propose investigating whether the degree of multilingualism reported predicts the SRS scores. Based on previous findings4, we expect this to be a negative correlation, with higher levels of multilingualism predicting smaller SRS scores. As communication has also been implicated, this subscale will also be measured against multilingualism. Finally, we will measure age of acquisition effects on SRS scores.

Implications: Given that autistic traits in research are often measured by tools implemented in diagnostic settings, it is vital to establish whether being multilingual has an effect on how we understand the presentation of autism. The findings from this project will help inform our knowledge of autism and how strong environmental factors, such as multilingualism, may influence its aetiology.

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Speakers of the first talk: Kieran Daly and Emma Carter, University of Cambridge,; Speaker of the second talk: Sarah K Crockford, University of Cambridge,

13:00 - 14:30


Room GR05, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 9 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP

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