Journal Article

The socio-emotional development of language-minority children entering primary school in Ireland

September 13, 2019

Irish Educational Studies

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Socio-emotional development is increasingly recognised as playing a central role in children’s academic achievement. However, little is known about the socio-emotional development of language-minority children on entry to school and how these children fare in comparison to their language-majority peers. To address this gap, longitudinal data on the socio-emotional outcomes of language-minority children in Ireland at five years of age were analysed. Teacher ratings on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) indicated comparable outcomes for language-minority and language-majority children upon entry into formal schooling. Further, language-minority children with poor English vocabulary skills were rated more favourably by their teachers than language-majority peers with poor English vocabulary skills, and, language-minority children had better teacher ratings on the SDQ when important child and family factors were taken into account in regression modelling. These findings support an emerging body of literature reporting positive socio-emotional development for young language-minority children. However, advantages associated with learning two or more languages may not be conferred as the child progresses through school if poorer vocabulary skills in the majority language are not addressed early. Educators may be able to capitalise on the positive socio-emotional outcomes reported here when working with language-minority children to support literacy in the majority language.