From studying Spanish for eight years to traveling to Nicaragua teaching English to Spanish speakers, recent Chapman graduate Nicole Williams has always been intrigued by the idea of language.

She was inspired to learn more through her studies and experiences at Chapman. During her time as an undergraduate, she volunteered as a tutor at the Friendly Center, a non-profit providing services to low-income families just down the street from Chapman. She observed that many children were bilingual in both Spanish and English.

“A lot of the parents there did not speak English and I noticed how their kids naturally helped them to communicate,” Williams said. “It’s so fascinating how kids can pick up on signals—how it’s so automatic.” She describes the process in which kids act as a translator for their parents as language brokering.

She explored this in her senior project, combining aspects of her double-major in integrated educational studies (IES) and psychology and minor in Spanish. Williams was able to extend her research this summer, after being accepted into the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.

SURF is a paid program offered by the Center of Undergraduate Excellence, where fellows work on a research project over the span of eight weeks in the summer with a faculty mentor, such as Williams mentored with Dr. Quaylan Allen. During this time period, fellows are expected to work 30 hours per week, conduct fieldwork, and present at the Summer Research Conference.

Williams’ research as a SURF fellow was driven by her question of “what can we improve about the educational experience for bilingual kids?” She studied whether language-brokering had a positive or negative effect on the child-parent relationship by using qualitative methods. Five interviews were conducted with fifth-grade children and their parents in Spanish-English dual immersion elementary schools.

“Most of the literature I was looking at focused on stories of adolescents and university-age students…there weren’t a lot of studies on younger kids,” Williams explained.

With the guidance Dr. Allen, she performed qualitative data analysis and saw three major themes: most children had a positive experience, older siblings served two roles by translating for both the parents and younger siblings, and that there was team collaborative effort while translating.

With the conclusion to her SURF fellowship, Williams is in the works of finalizing a manuscript of her research to be published. She plans to work with kids as a bilingual teacher by pursuing a masters degree in sociolinguistics and eventually receive a PhD in educational psychology.

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