Monday, October 6, 2014
Profile effects in early bilingual language and literacy
Oller, D. K., Pearson, B. Z., & Cobo-Lewis, A. B. (2007). Profile effects in early bilingual language and literacy. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28 (2), 191-230.
English-speaking bilingual and monolingual children perform differently on language tests. The scores of the monolingual group are usually higher, though not always. The pattern of group differences could be related to the aspect of language being investigated, an idea investigated in this paper.
Data were reanalyzed from 620 children in 2nd and 5th grades collected as part of a broad-scale study of monolingual English and bilingual Spanish–English learners in Miami. Findings showed no group differences in basic reading (phonics) tasks, but lower oral vocabulary scores for the bilingual Spanish–English than monolingual English learners.
Oller et al. explained this pattern of findings in terms of the “distributed characteristic” of the bilinguals’ knowledge. For bilingual speakers, some vocabulary items may be experienced in one setting and one language while other items are experienced in another setting and the other language. For example, words like ‘sewing’ may be used at home in Spanish, whereas ‘recess’ may occur at school in English. There are so many words being encountered, that the frequency of hearing (at least some) words in both languages may be low. As a result, lexical knowledge is ‘distributed’ across both languages leading but vocabulary level remains lower than monolingual peers in each language.
In contrast, learning two languages requires bilingual children to learn all the phonics of each language. Still, the total number of phonemes across both languages will be small allowing for the child to have frequent experiences with all the phonemes of the languages. Phonemic knowledge, then, is not distributed, but the same across languages. As s result, bilingual and monolingual groups do not differ in phonological analysis skills such as those employed basic reading tasks.
These findings suggest that the distributed characteristic of bilinguals’ knowledge across two languages has important implications for their language and literacy abilities.
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