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University launches project to reduce language inequality

Written by News

Newcastle University is leading a project to reduce the academic and social disadvantages caused by delayed speech among children in Arabic speaking countries. The project will identify pre-school children in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the West Bank.

This project is being undertaken because research has shown that children (0-4 years) who have difficulties using and understanding language are more likely to have worse life chances than children whose language develops normally. Consequently, they are likely to have worse results in school, work, and in their personal well-being. 

The leader of the project, Dr Khattab, a Lecturer in Phonetics and Phonology, said “the foundations for a child’s life are laid between birth and when they are four-years-old…However, little focus on language development in preschoolers is evident in (Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the West Bank), leading to later detection of language delay- but this reduces the chances of success.” 

The project wants to address the lack of resources available to assess children. The team will adapt the Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) – used to assess vocabulary and language development – across Arab states and make it freely available online. The team will also be looking at the home lives of children with delayed speech, both in how they learn as well as their exposure to language. They will also investigate the effects of multilingualism, childcare provision and life in refugee communities. 

Khattab said “the aim of our project is to work with professionals from various fields of early childhood development to produce tools which will support pre-schoolers during the time period that is crucial for intervention…Long-term, this will help to address educational and social inequalities in this region”. 

Newcastle will undergo this project alongside researchers from the University of Plymouth. The team will work with Non-Governmental Organisations involved in the education of refugees and with Government Ministries to inform them of the importance of language development and help shape policy towards it.

Professor Caroline Floccia, from the University of Plymouth, said: “We have been working for a number of years on tools to assess early Arabic learning…Arabic is not one uniform language, we have tailored the CDI to work across a total of 17 different dialects…This project will allow us to do that across national and linguistic boundaries. And by putting these tools into the hands of people on the ground, we will ensure our work is making a difference.”

Last modified: 27th February 2020

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