Can’t Win

A story yesterday in the Valley News reported on a debate between Riverside County board of supervisors and a local resident about use of federal stimulus funds to provide Spanish language literacy classes to Spanish speakers. Besides the assumption made by this person–that the people taking these classes were illegal immigrants– (yeah, like they have time to take night classes), he questioned the focus on Spanish-language literacy as a bridge to English literacy. This is a valid question, but the answers should come from data not from feelings or assumptions. What are the facts?

Well, for children anyway there are a number of studies that show that Spanish-language skills can and do transfer to English. For example:

  1. Lindsey, Manis, and Bailey (2003) found that phonological awareness (that is awareness of individual sounds in words) transferred from Spanish to English. Children were able to transfer letter, word, and print knowledge from Spanish to English. and was predictive of word-identification skills, as in previous studies.
  2. Reese, Garnier, Gallimore, and Goldenberg (2000) found that children who had better literacy skills in Spanish were able to more efficiently transfer those to reading and by middle school had a higher reading level. Basically literacy experiences (regardless of language) helped children obtain high levels of literacy in English.  (I think that for adults development of literacy skills in their own language plus development of oral language skills in English would help them develop literacy skills in English– yes, my opinion, but I know the difference between opinion and fact).
  3. Lopez and Greenfield (2004) found that in Spanish-speaking preschool children, first language skills (such as phonological awareness and oral proficiency) helped them to make the transfer to preliteracy skills (such as phonological awareness).

These three articles are just a sample of what’s out there. Over and over we see that first language support can and does transfer to English. It doesn’t slow down the transfer and in some cases enhances it. Of course these studies are all about child and not adult learning. So, please do let me know if there are similar (or different) findings for studies of adult literacy learning.

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