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Characteristics of a Language: A Longitudinal Study of the Influence of Bilingual Education on Literacy Acquisition

Poster D62 in Poster Session D with Social Hour, Friday, October 7, 5:30 - 7:15 pm EDT, Millennium Hall

Tiffani Shelton1,2, Nicole Florentino1,2, Danya Lebell1,2, Jocelyn Caballero1, Florence Bouhali1, Ioulia Kovelman3, Yuuko Uchikoshi Tonkovich4, Fumiko Hoeft1; 1University of California, San Francisco, 2The Wright Institute, 3University of Michigan, 4University of California, Davis

Objectives. The study of learning disabilities across languages has concurrently increased with the rise of multilinguals in the United States. Research has shown that it is possible to have dyslexia in one language but not another because literacy acquisition is shaped by the unique characteristics of each language (Pilcher, 2004). This longitudinal study investigates whether literacy acquisition is shaped by bilingual education. We hypothesize that learning a phonetic language, like Spanish, will improve performance on phonologically-based tasks in English. Comparatively, we expect learning a language based on an orthographic system, like Cantonese, will improve performance on semantically-based English tasks. Methods. Participants (n=107) were native English speakers recruited from the San Francisco Unified School District. Our sample included 63 males and 44 females. Forty-eight identified as White, 34 mixed race, 22 Asian, and 3 Latinx. Fifty-eight students were from upper class homes, 38 from middle class, and 11 from lower or working class. Forty-two children were in general education English programs (GENED), 35 in Spanish immersion programs (Sp), and 30 in Cantonese immersion programs (Cn). Each child was assessed on a core language/behavioral battery at Kindergarten (T1) and 2nd-3rd grade (T2). Time 2 participants were between 7 and 9 years old. Those that scored at least one standard deviation below the mean (SS=85) on a nonverbal intelligence screener (KBIT-2 Matrices) were excluded to mitigate confounds of intellectual disabilities. Groups' performance in English was compared on phonological (CTOPP-2 Blending Words) and orthographic learning tasks (KABC-II Rebus). Results. To establish a baseline, at T1 there were no significant group differences in performance on either task. At T2, a one-way ANOVA revealed a significant effect of bilingual education on phonological task performance at the p < .05 level [F(2, 66.4) = 3.52, p = .035]. As predicted, the Spanish-immersion group performed better on the phonological task (Blending Words, p = .035; GENED M = 8.55, Sp M = 10.49, Cn M = 9.03). Performance on the semantic task did not significantly vary among groups [F(2, 67) = 3.11, p = .051]. Post hoc analysis was significant for the mean difference of monolingual English speakers and bilingual Spanish speakers (mean difference = -1.94, p = 0.023). Conclusions. As hypothesized, after 3-4 years of bilingual education, Spanish-immersion participants performed better on an English phonological task than those in General Education and Cantonese-immersion. Our chosen measure of semantic learning did not significantly vary between groups. However, the literature demonstrates that the characteristics of a language may influence literacy acquisition; thus, future research may consider alternative methods to characterize the impact of different orthography on English acquisition. A limitation of our study was that a majority of the participants came from upper and middle class homes. Research has shown that education and socioeconomic status are correlated with stronger performance on measures of intelligence, specifically on academic achievement tasks, because of access to greater resources (von Stumm & Plomin, 2014). Future considerations would include a more heterogeneous sample to reflect the general population.

Topic Areas: Multilingualism, Reading

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