Applied Psycholinguistics


Is there a comprehension problem for children who speak nonstandard English? A study of children with Hawaiian-English backgrounds

Gisela E. Speidela1 c1, Roland G. Tharpa1 and Linda Kobayashia2

a1 Center for Development of Early Education and University of Hawaii

a2 Center for Development of Early Education


Students speaking Hawaiian-English may have difficulty understanding the information presented in the classroom and thereby have less success at school. Children from standard English-speaking backgrounds and from Hawaiian-English-speaking backgrounds were randomly assigned to one of six listening conditions. The conditions consisted of the same selections, but the selections were either in standard English, standard English with Hawaiian pronunciation, or Hawaiian-English. Each of these three versions, in turn, had a simple or a complex syntax version. The semantic content remained constant over all conditions. There was no difference between Hawaiian-English and standard English groups when all comprehension conditions were considered, indicating that the two groups of children did not differ in comprehension ability. However, Hawaiian-English children gave more correct answers when the selections were in their dialect than in standard, while standard English children tended to give more correct answers when the selections were in standard rather than in Hawaiian-English. Contrary to expectations, use of simple syntax and use of Hawaiian-English pronunciation did not facilitate comprehension of standard English by Hawaiian-English children. Implications for educational accommodations will be discussed.


c1 Gisela E. Speidel, Language and Learning Department, Center for Development of Early Education, 1850 Makuakane Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817