Purpose: This study examined systematic within-group differences in a large-scale sample of school-aged Hispanic, Spanish-speaking children designated as English Learners (ELs) by their school district.
Method: Data for this study include 847 Spanish-speaking ELs from kindergarten to third grade. Spanish and English narrative retell language samples were collected from all participants. Four oral language measures were calculated in Spanish and English, including the subordination index (SI), moving average type-token ratio (MATTR), words per minute (WPM), and Narrative Structure Scheme (NSS) using Systematic Analysis of Language Transcript (SALT). These eight measures were used in a latent profile analysis to identify dual language profiles.
Results: The optimal model represents a four-profile solution, including a Spanish-dominant group (average Spanish, low English), an English-dominant group (low Spanish, average English), and two balanced groups (a balanced-average group and a balanced-high group). Additionally, participants displayed uneven performance across language domains and distinct patterns of unique strength or weakness in a specific domain in one of their two languages.
Conclusions: Findings from this study demonstrated large within-group variability in both English and Spanish oral language abilities in school-aged Spanish-speaking ELs. The presence of an English-dominant group in this sample challenged a common assumption that ELs are more proficient in their home language compared to English. These findings emphasized the importance of assessing both languages in multiple domains to paint a representative picture of a bilingual child’s language abilities.