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About bilingual literacy

Dante's Hell, by L. 4 years


These days the child is in contact with prints since the first months of his life. His capacity for abstraction should not be underestimated. The child absorbs print in different ways and parents can help to increase his exposure to print by various means. Books are the most immediate means, illustrations are what attracts and catches the child's imagination and he will, unwittingly, also absorbs the visual image of the print associated with it.
Even subtitles on television can help increase a child's exposure to written language.


My daughter at 4 years distinguishes Italian prints from other languages ​​at a glance

 That 's when my daughter, bilingual, returning from school, asked me to read a book in Dutch (her other language). Faithful to my principle, I suggested to translate it for her and to browse it together (the written part  was very limited!).

Here we come to a page that contained a number of comics, each of which reported a language, or just signs of an invented language. Without hesitation my daughter told me that the snail was speaking Italian! And the snail's bubble was written in Italian, indeed ... You should know that she recognised the letters at that time, but she could hardly put them together and read a whole word, At that stage she would not have had the time to read any complete word. Therefore I wonder: how did she recognize that it was Italian?
Maybe it was just luck, but I like to believe that her condition of early bilingual - and so far balanced- child has contributed to this small wonder.

Learning to read: how many languages?

It 's a question that most parents of bilingual children has asked themselves at least once in their life.
The fear is so great, fear of confusing the child, fear to interfere with his development and his school performance.

Just as bilingualism in general has been the victim of prejudice and still not be free, teaching two linguistic codes simultaneously is still viewed with great suspicion.

What does "reading" mean ?

Reading means establishing a relationship between the written word (grapheme) and the corresponding sound (phoneme). The concept of this relationship between print and language begins to develop before one actually learns to read.
It is about recognizing the symbolic nature of print and understanding how the system of writing works, ie how the decoding of forms into language happens.


My daughter at 2 could recognize the letters

So it was by chance that one day someone close to the family has begun to show the letters to the girl of 2 years, early bilingual, associating them with names beginning with the corresponding letter.
The girl has since demonstrated the ability to assign a symbolic value to the letters.


I can not say for certain whether her status of bilingual had to do with this ability, however, a study by Ellen Bialystok (1997) has shown that bilingual children, on equal terms with their monolingual peers, have a better understanding of the symbolic representation of the written word at the age of pre-writing.

This confirms that the bilingual children, at a pre-writing stage, do not have any disadvantage compared to monolinguals, on the contrary they rather benefit from their bilingualism.

In another study of first-graders, Ellen Bialystok (2005) finds a general increase reading skills in bilingual children and the advantage is accentuated in those children who are learning to read two languages ​​simultaneously using the same alphabetical system. In fact, the  more similar languages ​​are, the more the child will be able to transfer the acquired skills for one language to another.
The bilingual applies then metalinguistic skills also to the reading.

Fluency oral crucial for reading comprehension

Numerous studies have demonstrated the correlation between the command of oral language and reading. Thus occurs both in the acquisition of language 1 and language 2.
(Geva in August and Shanahan, 2006)

It was also shown that a good understanding of oral language is a prelude to a good competence in reading (written text comprehension) (Royer and Charles 1991, cited in Geva) In children at a pre-writing stage it was in fact found that those who showed a good
listening comprehension would become good readers.

Reading is not = to writing

In general, it is important to distinguish between reading and writing. Reading requires certain skills and knowledge of the language and a good command of the oral form is necessary. A ggod commando of a
  language helps, in practice, to learn reading in that same language.

Learning to write, however, requires more complex skills, for which the command of oral language may be necessary but not sufficient. Written language includes aspects such as spelling, temporal connections, conjunctions (Geva, op.cit.). The awareness of these linguistic elements helps to determine the level of production in a written language.
Writing is a more active process then reading and requires effort and elaboration which do not exclusively depend on the command of the spoken language.

In conclusion

According to the results of studies conducted by Bialystok, bilingualism contributes to learn reading in children on two levels.
The first one is a general level: the child who understands how a linguistic code works, has an idea of ​​how the system works, he knows in fact that he must proceed to the decoding of the symbols and translate them into sounds with a meaning.

The second level is more specific: a child who learns certain rules to decode a given language code can use the same strategies and apply them to the decoding process of the other language. In this case it is important that the languages ​​have alphabetic systems as similar as possible to exploit the advantages of bilingualism.



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