Language Development and Substance Abuse:
Infants exposed prenatal to cocaine have been found to have adverse neuronal development and uterine vascular flow. This is bound to have an effect on later language learning abilities. Needless to say, most cocaine addicted gestating mothers also belong to urban areas and are generally poor. Studies have found that infants more exposed to narcotic drugs “had lower auditory comprehension scores than non-exposed infants and lower total language scores than lighter and non-exposed infants … heavily exposed infants were also more likely to be classified as mildly delayed by total language score than non-exposed infants.” (Roberts, Burchinal, et.al., 1998, p.352). For the prenatal cocaine exposed child, definite under-functioning of neurological mechanisms such as concentration and memory are found. Motor skills and language acquisition are the other affected areas. The neurotransmitters of the fetus are slowed down, resulting in slower processing of aural information, and results in poorer language acquisition. The effects on the neurological system in turn affect the arousal system. The overall cognitive development of the baby is also noted to be sluggish. Some studies have even associated cocaine exposure with visual disorders.
Hearing Loss and Language Learning:
Hearing loss of varying degrees can determine how well a child learns a language and cognitive development. In a study conducted on 100 partial to completely deaf children, a large percentage of them lagged behind in age-specific language skills. A correlation between the SES of the study group and their hearing impairment was also found. Taking the level of education of the primary care-taker of the child, the SES is determined. And the studies indicate that the lower the SES the more severe the impairment. Also, most of these children performed poorly in verbal and mathematical intelligence tests. Even the academically better children from the group score lesser than their non-impaired counterparts (Yoshinaga-Itano, Sedey, et al 1998, p.1167).
Language Development in Poor Ethnic Minorities:
Various researches on immigrant’s acquisition of their new regional language show some interesting results. A comparative study across continents reveals that the rate of return to language capital is higher (17%) for immigrant men in the United States than for those in Australia (5-8%), Canada (12%) and Israel (11%), A report issued by the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), shows that male and female immigrants with above average speaking fluency earn 6.9% and 7.1% more than those with deficiency in the German language. Similarly, male and female immigrants with above average writing fluency in the German language earn 7.3% and 15.3% more than those with deficiency in the German language” (Dehaene-Lambertz & Hertz-Pannier 2006, p.370)
An individual’s ethnicity is a factor in their language acquisition. Let us take the case of Russian immigrants in Israel post the break-up of the Soviet Union. A survey conducted on about eight hundred immigrants shows the strong link between host language acquisition and socio-economic status. Those immigrants who learnt Hebrew quickly found good economic success and easy integration.
Younger and upwardly mobile immigrants showed a tendency towards additive bilingualism, incorporating the elements of Hebrew into their everyday communications and cultural/media consumption. Mastering and using Hebrew serves as a trigger for reshaping immigrants’ identity, resulting in the gradual formation of a new ethnic entity–Russian Israeli. (Remennick 2004, p.439)