More English language supports needed for children with migrant parents – report

Language skills essential for children’s education, ability to connect with peers, says ESRI

Children of migrant parents develop good English language skills as they get older, but their reading scores are lower than children with Irish-born parents, according to a new study.

Research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that children with no native English-speaking parent in the household had lower self-concept, which measures how they think and feel about themselves.

It calls for more English language support for children and their parents, as well as increasing these children’s access to sports and other social activities, to improve their wellbeing.

One-third of children in the 2008 cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland study have at least one parent born abroad, according to the report.

14 per cent of children had one parent born abroad and one Irish-born parent. A further 19 per cent had both parents, or a lone parent, born outside the Republic of Ireland.

Roughly one in ten children were in families where neither parents were native English speakers.

Language development in these children was measured using English vocabulary tests when they were three and five. A reading ability test was conducted at nine years old.

At age three, 60 per cent of migrant-origin children were in the bottom quintile on the English vocabulary test. By age five, this had declined to 52 per cent and by age nine, 26 per cent were in the bottom quintile for reading, compared to 20 per cent of their Irish-origin peers.

English fluency is important for children’s education and their ability to make friends, the report said.

Children whose parents came from eastern Europe were found to have lower wellbeing, which was mediated through lower participation in sports and social activities.

Lower mean self-concept scores were also observed in children with parents from western Europe, North America and Australia.

Having no native English-speaking parent in the household was also associated with a lower self-concept score and this was mediated through fewer socioeconomic resources, the report said.

The ESRI said these children need more English language support at primary level, and enhancing their parent’s language skills would also help.

More opportunities for these children to engage in social activities, particularly team sports, would be beneficial according to the ESRI, as this fosters a positive self-image.

Increased funding for DEIS schools, where migrant-origin children are over-represented, would also help these children, the report said.