Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety


Dual Language Proficiency and Depression in Latino Youth

Friday, November 17
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Sapphire 410, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Depression | Adolescents | Hispanic Americans
Presentation Type: Symposium

Extant research suggests that language plays an important role in both social processes and emotional encoding and regulation. In dual language youth, the maternal tongue has been observed as a protective factor against maladaptive outcomes (Toppelberg & Collins, 2010). Although Latino youth are at a heightened risk for depression (CDC, 2013), and a majority grow in Spanish-English households (Pumariega et al., 2013), the impact of dual language development in their psychosocial well-being remains poorly understood. It is known that levels of dual language proficiency during early school years are predictive of maladaptive outcomes such as externalizing problems (Dawson & Williams, 2008). Previous studies have reported associations between Spanish and English self-reports of language proficiency and youth adjustment (Polo & Lopez, 2009). However, research has not examined objective measures of language proficiency and their relationship with youth depression among Latino youth. This study addressed these gaps by investigating the relationship between language proficiency and depression in a community sample of dual language Latino adolescents.

 Participants included 397 Latino students ages 10-15 years (M = 12.0; 51.9% female), the majority of whom (82.4%) were from families reporting household incomes below $40,000. Results indicate that a majority of the students (58.9%) exhibited higher levels of English proficiency compared to Spanish, and approximately one in five (21.7%) showed limited proficiency in both languages. Also, youth with limited language proficiency were found to be at a higher risk for depression, and higher Spanish language proficiency was associated with lower depressive symptoms. Results suggest both Spanish and English languages play a significant role in the well-being of Latino youth, specifically, their depressive symptoms. More needs to be known about the specific pathways connecting language proficiency and depression to allow for the design of appropriate psychological interventions and sensible educational policies for students of diverse linguistic backgrounds. Limitations and implications for future research are discussed.

Nicole Colón-Quintana

DePaul University


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Dual Language Proficiency and Depression in Latino Youth

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