National Institute of Health grants $2.9 million grant for research language development in bilingual children

Professor of psychology receives grant from federal government for language development study.

Photo of Ericka Hoff courtesy of Florida Atlantic University.

Photo of Ericka Hoff courtesy of Florida Atlantic University.

Joe Pye, Staff Writer

Florida Atlantic professor of psychology Erika Hoff received a $2.9 million grant on April 1 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institute of Health.

Hoff wrote and submitted a proposal to the institution to fund her research on language development in bilingual children, who are learning both English and Spanish simultaneously from birth.

“Bilingual children may get 70 percent of their experience in English and 30 percent of their experience in Spanish,” said Hoff.  “You can look at how they process English and how they process Spanish and what the effects of different amounts of experiences are sort of holding the brain constant.”

According to Hoff, the American education system is reared more in favor of English monolingual speaking curriculum, making it very difficult for bilingual children to keep up developmentally.

“About 25 percent of children entering school have experience with a language other than English at home,” said Hoff. “Children that are from homes where they hear a language other than English are not as well prepared for school.”

Hoff and her research team initially followed the children from the ages of 2 1/2 to 5 years old and will continue to follow that group until they are 10 years old.

“I was fortunate of when I started my work with bilingual children and their development,” said Hoff. “I started at a time when bilingual population in the country was and still is growing, so the federal government has an interest in understanding the nature of language skills and the factors that shape bilingual children.”

This research is a continuation of a study she has been working on for five years, originally funded by the Faculty Research Seed Program from FAU’s Division of Research. The program is designed to fund research for faculty members to begin their research so that they can later apply for more external funding.  

Funding for the research pays for her staff, the families of the participants in her studies, video recorders and standardized testing for the children within the study.

“We’ve been researching these children for five years now and are continuing for another five,” said Hoff. “There is a lot of labor that goes into conducting a longitudinal study.”

Joe Pye is a Staff Writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories email [email protected] or tweet him @Jpeg3189