Publication Date

2011

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Psychology

Keywords

Language acquisition, Hispanic American children-Education, Bilingualism in children, English language-Phonology, Literacy-Social aspects, English language-Study and teaching-Immersion method, Preschool children-Education, Hispanic, Bilingual, Emergent literacy

Abstract

There continues to be a large disparity between the reading achievement of Hispanic students and their White counterparts in the USA. Previous studies have revealed that Hispanic students enter preschool with weaker literacy skills than their White peers which in turn results in poorer academic achievement in Hispanics. The disparity in reading achievement of Hispanic and White students has been attributed to both societal and cultural factors with the most common factors being race, poverty, timing of exposure to English, and dual language learning (DLL). Many previous studies on the Hispanic population tend to focus on school-aged children who are already able to read. Not many have focused on emergent literacy development in young DLLs as they progress from preschool to elementary school. Previous studies have assumed that the development of language and literacy is similar for monolinguals and bilinguals, but this has not been well established by empirical research. The present longitudinal study examined 76 preschoolers, grouped on the basis of their use and exposure to English and Spanish: English functional monolinguals (N= 31) and balanced bilinguals (N= 45). It investigated differences in the English language acquisition and emergent literacy skills between the monolingual and bilingual children and the factors that predicted language and literacy in both groups. The factors that predicted phonological awareness (a critical skill for reading) in both groups were also examined. It was hypothesized that the bilinguals would have poorer English skills (syntax and vocabulary) than the monolingual group at the initial assessment (Time 1). However, it was expected that they would have closed the gap in both vocabulary and syntax by the end of preschool (Time 2). It was also hypothesized that the development of phonological awareness over the school year would be related to the children's vocabulary size. However, in the case of the balanced bilingual children, this might include their combined English and Spanish vocabulary. Statistical analyses revealed that the bilinguals began the year behind the monolinguals in terms of mainstream American English morphosyntax production and English expressive vocabulary. However, by the end of the year, they caught up to the monolinguals in terms of morphosyntax, and had narrowed the gap in English vocabulary. The data also revealed no differences between groups in their comprehension of complex English syntax (on the DELV-NR Wh-question subtest) or in their emergent literacy skills (Phonological Awareness and Print Knowledge). Similar predictive relationships between the background and environmental variables and the children's English language and emergent literacy development for the monolingual and the bilingual groups were revealed. For both groups verbal memory (word span) was the only consistent contributor to language and emergent literacy. For neither group were there strong relationships between the educational levels of the parents and the HOME language stimulation assessments and the children's English language skills. The data also revealed a correlation between the children's vocabulary size and their phonological awareness at the end of the year. For the monolinguals, English vocabulary size strongly predicted their phonological awareness at the end of the year, even when effects of age, word span, and initial level of phonological awareness were controlled. However, for the bilinguals their combined Spanish and English vocabulary, not their English vocabulary alone, was the predictor of their phonological awareness in English at the end of the year. This shows that in bilingual children their separate vocabularies in Spanish and English interact to facilitate their awareness of the phonological structure of words. The absence of differences between the matched groups of bilingual and English monolingual Hispanic children in the crucial pre-literacy skills of complex syntax comprehension and phonological awareness suggests that dual language learning itself is not a risk factor for poorer English reading development. The factors determining the reading achievement gap between Hispanic and White students are likely to be common to all low-income Hispanic children. To narrow or even close the achievement gap, interventions that address these common factors will be needed.

Language

English

Comments

51 p. Honors project-Smith College, Northampton, Mass., 2011. Includes bibliographical references (p. 48-51)

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