Byron Nelson Nonprofit Highlights Child Language Researcher
Dr. Raul Rojas, an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is featured in a video series highlighting programs that benefit from the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament. If you are having trouble watching the video, view it on YouTube.
A UT Dallas professor researching how dual-language students learn verbal skills is featured in a video series highlighting programs supported by the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament.
Dr. Raúl Rojas, an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is included in a video series produced by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, which organizes the annual tournament. The series spotlights people and programs that work with the club’s charitable organization — The Momentous Institute. Rojas’ video highlights his work at Momentous School, an innovative Dallas laboratory school serving mostly low-income, Hispanic students from prekindergarten through fifth grade.
Rojas studies bilingual children and how their dual language development is influenced by, for example, different speakers in the children’s environments, such as parents, siblings, peers and teachers, as well as context, such as their academic programs of language instruction.
“Child language researchers and speech pathologists like me have to disentangle everything relating to the children’s language influences, looking at their education, their families, their medical histories and more.”
”We are truly grateful to Dr. Rojas for his commitment to this research over the past four years,” said Dr. Karen Thierry, director of research and evaluation at Momentous School. “This project will answer critical questions about language growth over time that inform not only Dr. Rojas’ research but also the practices at Momentous School.”
Rojas’ research focuses on early markers that may be able to identify whether a child may have a speech or language impairment or, alternatively, may be struggling to learn a second language.
“Sometimes a language disorder is confused with second-language acquisition,” Rojas said. “So when children are learning English as a second language, some of them may not do so well for the first few years of school, especially academically. Child language researchers and speech pathologists like me have to disentangle everything relating to the children’s language influences, looking at their education, their families, their medical histories and more.”
In his most recent study, Rojas, with UT Dallas doctoral student Svenja Gusewski, identified a metric that is helpful in measuring English verb-tense acquisition and use in sequential bilingual children. This group learns the second language later and tends to have a difficult time acquiring the tense-marking system in English.
“One of the things that this study shows is that the context of educational instruction seems to matter,” Rojas said. “If you have a 3- to 4-year-old Spanish-speaking child who has been instructed in English for two years but still is not able to correctly use verbs in English, that might be a reason to be concerned about that child.”
Much of Rojas’ research is being done through longitudinal studies, which follow children over multiple years and take place in collaboration with multiple organizations and at various sites in Dallas, including Momentous School.
Momentous School “has been very receptive and open to the work I am doing. They're very interested and invested in finding out more about what's happening to the dual language of their students,” Rojas said.
Rojas spends time at the beginning of each school year talking with teachers about new studies and their potential implications for the classroom.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the tournament, which will be held May 14-20 at the new Trinity Forest Golf Club in South Dallas.
Since its inception, the tournament has given $155 million to charity.
He has collaborated with Dr. Margaret Owen, Robinson Family Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and director of the Center for Children and Families, to examine the development of self-regulation skills in bilingual children.
In one longitudinal study with Owen and colleagues at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, the team is trying to determine whether there are culturally specific ways in which Hispanic children communicate with their parents and, if so, what impact this may have over time on dual language development and school readiness.
Rojas also is working on another project with colleagues at the University of Houston, with the goal of using large-scale, longitudinal data sets to determine what impacts the identification of reading and language-learning disabilities in Spanish-speaking English learners.
“A lot of the children that I end up studying are ones who really don't have a functional level of English when they get to school,” Rojas said. “I'm a bilingual speech-language pathologist by training and not an education person. But because of the children that I study, I do want them to have the best bilingual outcomes across the variety of educational programs that are available.”
Rojas’ research is supported in part by the Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. Mental Health Research Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Institute of Education Sciences.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].