Perspective on Biliteracy

by Cristina Canales, Patricia Robles, Norma Ramirez, Eliud Salinas

This semester in RLIT 6345 students worked in groups to read and discuss a professional book related to transnational or immigrant literacies. As part of their project, they wrote a post for this blog.

One question the book presents is as follows:  How do two languages in the primary yearsEarly Biliteracy Development impact a child’s language and literacy development in both languages?   There has always been a misconception that children will get confused when it comes to learning how to read and write in two languages. Yet through limited research, it has been discovered that by the age of three, children can differentiate between different languages (pg. 14).There is an overabundance of academic research on the literacy development of monolinguals. The same cannot be said for children learning a second language in academic settings. The book Early Biliteracy Development-Exploring Young Learners’ Use of Their Linguistic Resources “shares the perspective of in-service teachers, literacy educators, graduate students, and researches whose work involves bilingual learners, original research examining issues related to early biliteracy development across different languages” (pg.1 ).

What greatly contributes to the success of a child’s development as an “emergent bilingual” as the book describes, is in the way the languages are developed, encouraged and supported at home. “Parents/caregivers of bilingual preschoolers play an important role in shaping their literacy and language development” (pg. 29).  Since family plays a huge role in the development of two languages, their academic learning must have the same learning opportunities and acceptance.  In order for the child to not only flourish academically, allowing them to use their “resources” to build onto their knowledge and make connection is what makes them successful.  The term “resources” in the book is referred to as, what the child brings from home in both language and culture, which that supports and impacts the English learning process (pg. 12).

A second question that the book asks is the following: Does exposure to language and literacy practices in two languages interfere with the learning process?  Just like the question above, people have believed that language should be the same as the language of instruction.  Studies have actually revealed that literacy practices in two languages actually increase cognitive benefits and metalinguistic awareness of bilingual students (pg. 17).  As students are trying to make sense of the material, the act of using both of their languages to construct meaning empowers their language repertoire; they are able to use and manipulate information in one language and apply it to the other language while meaning is unaffected by the language switch. Also, as students are presented with two different writing systems, the ability to distinguish between the two helps in developing literacy skills. Talking about similarities and differences between two languages enhances second language acquisition (pg. 50). Learning a second language can also help facilitate the first language.

To conclude, as educators we want students to make connections to what they already know and use it to build onto new knowledge. The diversity of our students nurtures multiple paths to biliteracy and it is important to recognize the bidirectional process of how language skills are acquired. It is also crucial that we begin to view bilingual students as biliterate and not two monolinguals in one, as to encourage the use of two languages.

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