Learning Leader

CLI's Bilingual Research Conference: Advancing the Field of Bilingual Education

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people who are bilingual has reached an all-time high of 61.8 million (as of 2013). Of the population who speak a language-other-than-English, 41 percent told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well (www.cis.org). Given the role of language in facilitating learning, it would be reasonable to assume that children who come from these households are struggling more academically. But the question of how bilingualism plays a role in children’s academic and developmental trajectories, specifically during their early school years, has yet to have a definitive answer. 

In an initiative to advance this field, the Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston hosted the second Bilingual Research Conference (BRC) this past month at the Institute of Molecular Medicine. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Investigators Dr. Susan Landry and Dr. Maria Carlo brought together over 100 attendees from across North America whose research focuses on bilingualism across the life-span, with an emphasis on school-aged children. As leaders in this developing field, Landry and Carlo designed an intimate conference with a diverse group of researchers who examine this area closely.

The conference was headlined by two distinguished keynote speakers: Dr. Catherine Snow from Harvard University and Dr. Ellen Bialystok of York University. Snow emphasized the importance of instructional approaches that improve reading outcomes for both monolinguals and bilinguals, while Bialystok focused on how bilingualism is associated with changes in both brain and behavior. Some of the other papers that were presented at the BRC addressed key topics in bilingual research such as bilingualism and cognition and academic performance and instruction promoting dual-language learners’ academic development in the L1 or L2. The presentations demonstrated the importance of the effect that bilingualism plays in relation to academic achievement in language, literacy, STEM, and other subjects. The BRC had a total of 21 poster presentations and 32 paper presentations including local and national scholars such as Dr. Arturo Hernandez from the University of Houston, Dr. Perla Gamez from Loyola University Chicago, Dr. Diane August from the America Institutes for Research, Dr. Mariela Paez from Boston College, and Dr. David Birdsong from the University of Texas at Austin.

Not only did these attendees have the chance to showcase their work, the meeting also established a strong network among these scholars, enabling them to discuss the current state of knowledge in this research domain, identify productive new lines of inquiry, and enhance the potential for future collaborative partnerships. It is with the collective effort of these individuals that the field will move closer to successfully addressing the barriers to bilingual learners' academic success. CLI’s hope is that the BRC becomes a tradition and continues to encourage bilingual researchers and experts to come together and advance research in this area. 

The Children’s Learning Institute and the Bilingual Research Conference were fortunate to have community support from H-E-B, Hatch Early Learning, and Scholastic Education. We extend our sincerest gratitude for their contributions to the success of this event.



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