Stefka Marinova-Todd

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

"Can I write as well as I can speak?" Exploring the intricacies in the persuasive writing of adolescent second language learners (2022)

This dissertation consists of three studies that together address issues surrounding the acquisition of academic language (AL) in adolescent second language learners (L2 adolescents). In secondary school, as the curriculum places greater academic demands on students, AL imposes a significant challenge for L2 adolescents, who are learning the language itself and the academic content simultaneously. Despite the importance of AL to literacy development and academic success, little empirical research has examined adolescents’ AL skills beyond academic vocabulary. Therefore, this dissertation focused on the AL skills of 95 students in grades 8 and 9 at public schools in Vancouver. Guided by Scarcella’s (2003) conceptual framework of AL, I systematically examined the students’ persuasive essays regarding AL use in the lexical, syntactic, discourse, and sociolinguistic domains.The multiple regression analyses in Study 1 revealed that different AL domains together contributed to successful academic writing and underscored the importance of examining adolescents’ AL from a multi-dimensional perspective. The between-group comparisons in Study 2 showed that L2 adolescents, whose L1 was Chinese and who had been living in Canada for more than seven years, still scored below their native English-speaking peers on aspects of AL, thus revealing that AL acquisition is a lengthy process. Traditionally, these early-arrived L2 adolescents have received little research and educational attention due to their assumed competency in English—most likely based on their conversational fluency. My findings, however, suggest that they need continued AL instructional support, even after gaining conversational fluency. Additionally, hierarchical regression modeling demonstrated the significant effects of leisure book reading, social media, and computer games on L2 adolescents’ AL skills in addition to the effects of the length of residence and L2 oral language skills. Finally, by comparing the AL skills between students with different English proficiency designations, the third study highlighted the importance of continued explicit AL instruction for adolescents, who after an initial designation as English Language Learners, are subsequently immersed in mainstream classrooms. Overall, this dissertation paints a fuller picture of L2 adolescents’ AL skills, and provides empirical data that could inform instructional practices and educational policies that better suit today’s diverse classrooms.

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Acquisition of English and French language proficiency and reading comprehension of multilingual students in French Immersion programs: A 3-year longitudinal study (2013)

This dissertation consists of three articles that explore the oral language proficiency and reading skills in the second language (English) and third language (French) of multilingual students in Canadian French immersion programs. Oral language proficiency included measures of vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension. In this dissertation, multilingual students are children who are exposed to a home language other than English or French. Chapter 2 shows that multilingual students developed oral language proficiency and reading skills differently from bilingual English-French students in Grades 4 and 6. This emphasizes the importance of studying multilingual learners in greater detail, and several factors such as first language and the interdependence between the L2 and L3 are identified as contributors of English and French proficiency. Chapter 3 examines the relationship between first language typology—defined as the classification of languages according to their structural characteristics (e.g. phonological and writing systems)—and the development of English and French language proficiency and literacy skills in groups of students who are either literate in an alphabetic first language (e.g. Spanish) or literate in a logographic/syllabary first language (e.g. Chinese). Results indicated that students with an alphabetic first language showed advantages in reading comprehension. However, there was no difference in word reading and pseudoword reading. A more accurate picture of what facilitates reading in English and French is enhanced when differences in oral language proficiency are also considered. It was found that vocabulary knowledge had a greater influence on reading comprehension in both English and French in students who were literate in an alphabetic first language rather than a logographic first language. The fourth chapter further explores other factors associated with multilingual students’ oral language proficiency and reading skills in French: socio-linguistic factors (e.g. motivation, socio-economic status, amount of reading in French), metalinguistic awareness factors (e.g. morphological awareness), and language proficiency factors (e.g. vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension). Controlling for amount of reading in French and morphological awareness in English, regression analyses showed that oral language proficiency and reading comprehension skills in English were the best predictors of oral language proficiency and reading comprehension skills in French.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Morphological representation and reading comprehension in early elementary English language learners (2018)

Reading is a complex cognitive-linguistic endeavor involving multiple levels of linguistic knowledge. The relative contribution of different levels of linguistic awareness may depend on the individual linguistic processes of a child’s linguistic background. A child learning English as a second language may face differences as they become proficient in their educational language which is essential for academic success. The purpose of the study is to gain insight into the various levels of linguistic knowledge associated with reading comprehension in children who are English language learners (ELLs). This study examined morphological knowledge in relation to reading comprehension between grade two students who learned English as first language (EL1) and ELLs. The participants completed tasks of English phonological awareness, word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Further, the participants were assessed on their knowledge of English morphology through an experimental task based on a distributed connectionist approach: the Morphological Awareness Semantic Task (MAST). This task requires students to process sentences with different morphological and semantic conditions: form only, low semantic, moderate semantic, high semantic, and semantic only. No significant differences between language groups on any measures were found, except on receptive vocabulary. Statistically significant correlations were found between phonological awareness and word reading for the ELL group, and between word reading and reading comprehension in the EL1 group, but not between morphological representations and reading. In an analysis of the five different MAST conditions, the groups did not display any statistically significant differences between them, with some notable differences: the EL1 group tended to score higher than the ELL group on all conditions, except for the high semantic condition. The overall findings of the current study suggest that ELLs are able to achieve similar scores in reading comprehension to that of native English speakers, with minor differences in their morphological representations of English words. Despite having a smaller vocabulary size than native English speaking students, ELLs appear to be relying on different linguistic skills to decode and derive meaning in a morphologically complex task.

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Factors affecting executive function in children with autism spectrum disorder (2017)

In typically developing children, better performance on tasks of executive function (EF) is associated with bilingualism as well as participation in activities that engage EF, such as playing video games, attending music lessons, and getting regular exercise. Furthermore, activities found to improve EF abilities tend to be most effective in participants with lower EF at baseline. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have deficits in EF. With the prevalence of ASD on the rise, research on the factors contributing to EF development in children with ASD is crucial for the advancement of evidence-based practice for professionals working with these children. This study aims to address whether children with ASD experience EF benefits from dual language exposure and participation in EFsupporting activities.This study’s sample was comprised of ten children with ASD, aged six to ten years. Participants were divided into groups based on whether they were primarily exposed to one or two languages, and based on whether they played video games, attended music lessons, or engaged in fitness activities. Each participant was tested on two tasks of inhibition (Simon and flanker tasks) and two tasks of visuospatial working memory (forward- and backwardspan). Language exposure group differences were found, but not in conditions that target EF abilities. The only group difference specific to conditions with EF involvement was in favour of children who engage in regular physical fitness. While these results do not support dual language exposure, video game playing or musicianship as EF supporting experiences, the results of this study are limited by the small sample size. In addition to group comparisons, data from three participants is discussed within the context of development of EF in children with ASD.

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Examining the French and English Language Proficiency of Grade 11 French Immersion Students in British Columbia (2016)

The primary objective of the present study was to compare the French and English language proficiency of Early French Immersion (EFI) and Late French Immersion (LFI) students nearing the time of high-school graduation. This research was undertaken as a means of exploring the effect of age on second language proficiency, in the context of French immersion. Four indicators of language proficiency were examined: receptive vocabulary knowledge, grammar knowledge, listening comprehension, and pronunciation. Participants were evaluated in French and English. Results demonstrated no significant differences between EFI and LFI groups on the French language measures, suggesting evidence against the notion of a sensitive period for language learning in the context of French immersion.Subsequent analyses were conducted in which the sample was divided by home-language into bilinguals (participants who spoke only English at home) and multilinguals (participants who spoke a language other than English at home). These analyses revealed that multilinguals performed as well as, and on some measures better than bilinguals in both languages, with the exception of English pronunciation. Higher language aptitude and motivation to learn a foreign language observed in the multilingual group were factors that could explain these results. Due to the better performance of multilinguals and the uneven distribution of multilinguals across EFI and LFI groups, it is unclear whether this study provides evidence against age effects in formal language education. The results emphasize the success of multilinguals in EFI and LFI, but also highlight the need to account for the changing demographics of students in French immersion programs in future studies.

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A Comparative Study of Executive Functioning Behaviours in Bilingual and Monolingual Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2015)

Weaker Executive Function (EF) abilities have been consistently noted in individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) relative to typically-developing children, specifically with deficits in planning, mental flexibility or shifting, inhibition, and working memory. There have been mixed findings in terms of typically-developing bilingual individuals demonstrating a bilingual advantage compared to monolingual peers on tasks of EFs.However, there is currently no research comparing the EF skills of bilingual and monolingual children with ASD. The current study compared the parent and teacher ratings of EF deficits and academic achievement in 42 8.5-to-9.0-year-old bilingual and monolingual children with ASD. Results indicated no significant differences in ratings of EF deficits or academic achievement scores. The results from this study support past research that indicates bilingualism does not have a negative impact on the cognitive development of children with ASD.

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Pragmatic Skills of Bilingual and Monolingual Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2015)

Although the pragmatic aspect of language is a major deficit in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there is limited research on the effects of bilingualism on social communication in this population. This study aimed to investigate the influence of bilingualism on pragmatic skills in children with ASD by comparing the pragmatic skills of 8.5 – 9 year old monolingual and bilingual children with autism. The two groups were compared on scores from the Children’s Communication Checklist (CCC-2; Bishop, 2006), scores from the Expression, Reception and Recall of Narrative Instrument protocol (ERRNI; Bishop, 2004), and scores from the ERRNI storytelling narrative transcript. No significant differences were found between the monolingual and bilingual children with ASD on any of the measures of pragmatic skills. Specifically, the two groups performed similarly on the ERRNI protocol, which examined the children’s ability to convey main ideas in a storytelling task and to answer comprehension questions. They also had comparable ERRNI transcript scores, which measured the length of the transcript; lexical and grammatical errors in the transcript; and the children’s ability to use causal statements, clear references and evaluative devices. The comparable performance on all measures of pragmatic skills between the two groups suggests that bilingualism may not impede the development of pragmatic skills in children with ASD.

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Success in Early and Late French Immersion: A Study on Language Aptitude and Motivation (2015)

French immersion programs have continued to increase in popularity in British Columbia over the past ten years. The expected French language outcomes are the same for both Early French immersion (EFI) and Late French immersion (LFI) programs, yet it is commonly believed that an early start to language learning will lead to a greater level of second language proficiency. Research in the context of French immersion programs has not always supported this view. A variety of factors have the potential to influence second language learning and outcomes; however, foreign language aptitude and motivation have been found to be the most consistent predictors of second language success. This study investigated the relationship between the components of language aptitude and motivation, and second language outcomes of grade 11 students from EFI versus LFI programs in Western Canada. Results showed that overall the two groups had similar levels of language aptitude; however, the LFI students demonstrated stronger language analysis abilities. Similarly, the groups did not differ in their attitudes toward or motivation for learning French. Language aptitude was shown to be related to French vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension skills for both EFI and LFI students, while motivation was associated with pronunciation (i.e., French accent) more for LFI than EFI students. Findings suggest that language aptitude relates to French language outcomes regardless of age of onset and is perhaps a better predictor of foreign language outcomes than age or amount of time spent learning a language.

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Prefessional support for bilingual language acquisition in children with developmental disabilities: A survey of speech-language pathologists in British Columbia, Canada (2014)

In a multicultural country, bilingualism can benefit many children, and be a necessity for some. However, support for bilingualism is not always a priority for children with developmental disabilities. Recent research has at least partially contradicted the ‘common sense’ view that bilingualism is detrimental to or unrealistic for these children. This study surveyed 42 speech-language pathologists from British Columbia, Canada to determine the extent to which children with developmental disabilities are exposed to languages other than English in professional settings. Questions considered two language learning scenarios: English language learners (ELLs) and optional second language learners (e.g. French immersion students). The questions probed access to language programs in the education system, as well as the languages used for assessment and treatment. Results showed that the severity of diagnosis impacted inclusion in language programs, most notably for optional second language learners. However, severity did not appear to play a role in the language of assessment and treatment. The opinions of the SLPs also differed significantly from their practices, showing that they would like to see more access to bilingual services than is currently the case.

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The effects of bilingualism on the cognitive and phonological awareness skills of children with ASD (2013)

To date, the literature on the effects of bilingualism on the language development of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is limited. The few studies which do exist have indicated that bilingualism does not negatively impact the linguistic development of children on the Autism spectrum. The current study explored whether the cognitive and linguistic advantages that have been observed in typically developing bilingual children also exist in school-age, English-Chinese bilingual children with ASD. Two groups of children were recruited for this study: a monolingual group and a bilingual group. The monolingual group consisted of English-speaking children with an average age of 6.58 years (n = 8). The bilingual group consisted of English-Chinese bilingual children with an average age of 7.20 years (n = 6). This study used the Simon task in order to evaluate attentional control and a series of three phonological awareness (PA) tasks in order to evaluate metalinguistic skills. Results indicated no differences between the groups’ accuracy and RTs on the Simon task. Additionally, no differences were observed between the groups’ performance on the PA tasks. Correlational analyses between the two groups indicated that the bilingual participants’ performance on the Simon task was consistently related to their non-verbal scores and language skills (both English and Chinese). Although the findings from this study do not provide evidence for the existence of a bilingual advantage in children with ASD, they do highlight the need for continued research in the area of bilingualism and its effect on the linguistic and cognitive skills of children with ASD.

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Narrative abilities in bilingual children with autism (2011)

Storytelling requires the integration of cognitive, linguistic, and sociocultural knowledge, and because autism undercuts competence in each of these domains, narratives provide a valuable means to investigate the nature of such deficits in autism. This is the first study on narrative abilities in bilingual children with autism, which will contribute to our knowledge of language development and the effects of bilingualism in this population. The study compares the narrative abilities of 13 monolingual English children with autism, 10 bilingual Mandarin-English children with autism, and 9 typically-developing bilingual Mandarin-English children matched on nonverbal intelligence and language ability. All children were asked to tell a story based on the wordless picture book, Frog, Where are You? (Mayer, 1969), and the bilingual children were asked to generate a story in both languages. The narratives were analyzed according to their global structure, local linguistic structure, and the child’s ability to provide evaluative comments.Comparisons between the monolingual children with autism and bilingual children with autism revealed no group differences, suggesting that bilingualism is not likely to have a negative effect on language development in children with autism. Comparisons between the two bilingual groups on the global structure revealed that bilingual children with autism included fewer story episodes and fewer types of orientation. However, both groups were able to grasp the theme of the story. With regard to the local structure, bilingual children with autism told stories of similar length, but employed less complex syntax and fewer types of conjunction, and also made more reference errors than their typically developing peers. Finally, the two groups did not differ significantly on the evaluative aspects of narratives. Results of this study demonstrated that bilingual children with autism did find certain aspects of narrative challenging, but their performance was comparable to that of monolingual children with autism, suggesting that bilingualism does not further impede language development in this population and that verbal children with autism have the capacity to be bilingual.

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Accent versus impairment: assessing bilingual children in English (2010)

Standard Speech Language Pathology (SLP) practice mandates accent not interfere with the assessment of bilingual children (Crago & Westernoff, 1997). However, in practice SLPs only have access to assessments that do not account for accent, potentially resulting in an over-referral of bilingual children. The current study compared the standard scores and phonological errors of 29 bilingual Cantonese or Mandarin English language learners (ages between 5;6 and 9;8 years) with 25 monolingual English children (ages between 6;8 and 9;4 years). Perceptual ratings of accent and proficiency by 10 SLPs of the children’s speech were compared with standard scores on the Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation second edition (Goldman & Fristoe, 2002). The results of the tests revealed that bilingual children with an accent had significantly lower standard scores than monolingual children, but not in the impaired range. The SLPs reliably agreed on the level of accent and proficiency, but only accent correlated significantly with the standard score for bilingual children. Furthermore, a description of the phonology of the bilingual children showed patterns consistent with a speech impairment according to English typical developmental norms (Grunwell, 1981). These findings add quantitative and qualitative data to existing protocols, and discourage the assessment of bilingual children with tests standardized on first-language English-speaking children. Furthermore, the results suggest perceptual judgment is complementary to an SLP’s assessment of bilingual children.

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Lexical Skills in Bilingual Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2010)

Bilingual families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are often advised to reduce language input or to completely drop one language when communicating with their child. While research has explored the impact of bilingualism on the language development of children with language impairments, there is very limited research available on bilingualism and the ASD population. Lexical development is a focus of early language intervention and an accurate measure of language development. Therefore, studying lexical diversity in bilingual children with ASD is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of language development in this population.This study investigated the lexical production skills of bilingual English-Chinese and monolingual English preschool-age children with ASD, primarily using Communication Development Inventories (Fenson, Dale, Reznick, Thal, Bates, Hartung, Pethick, & Reilly, 1993; Tardif & Fletcher, 2008). Participant use of nouns, verbs, and mental state terms was also explored. In addition, vocabulary comprehension, overall language skills, and nonverbal skills were assessed. Results revealed that bilingual and monolingual participants had equivalent English production vocabularies, and that bilinguals had larger conceptual production vocabularies than monolinguals. The groups did not differ in the number of English mental state words produced. Bilingual participants had a larger number of verbs in their conceptual production vocabularies, and were found to have higher vocabulary comprehension scores and higher language scores. When comparing the two languages of the bilingual participants, there were no significant differences in the size of production vocabularies, vocabulary comprehension scores, or the number of mental-state words produced. The results from this study suggest that bilingual English-Chinese preschool-age children with ASD have the capacity to be bilingual.

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