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Literacy Development in Elementary School Second-Language Learners

August, Diane PhD; Snow, Catherine PhD; Carlo, Maria PhD; Proctor, C. Patrick EdD; Francisco, Andrea Rolla de San EdD; Duursma, Elisabeth MA, MEd; Szuber, Anna MEd

Section II: Literacy

This article describes a series of studies that examine the development of literacy in elementary school Spanish-speaking second-language learners. Findings from the research that addresses our first question—regarding cross-language relationships—indicate that first-language reading skills are related to second-language reading skills, but that children must have first-language literacy in the skill for this relationship to exist; oral proficiency in the first language is not sufficient. In our studies that address the second research questions—bilinguals' early literacy development in kindergarten and first grade—Spanish-instructed bilinguals were more likely than English-instructed bilinguals or English monolinguals to treat diphthongs as 2 units, reflecting the influence of Spanish language instruction on English phonological analysis. Moreover, both English vocabulary and literacy instruction made unique, positive contributions to English spelling, whereas Spanish literacy instruction played a more important role than Spanish vocabulary in the production of Spanish-influenced spelling in English. Only bilingual students in Spanish literacy instruction exhibited Spanish-influenced spelling, indicating a powerful effect of language of literacy instruction. Our findings related to the third question—the role of home literacy and language environment on bilinguals' English and Spanish vocabulary development—suggest that becoming or staying proficient in English does not require parental use of English in the home. Spanish, not English, is the at-risk language for children of Hispanic heritage living in the United States. Students need early instruction in Spanish and home support in that language to become and remain proficient in Spanish.

Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC (Dr August); Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass (Drs Snow and Rolla and Mss Duursma and Szuber); School of Education, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla (Dr Carlo); and Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass (Dr Proctor).

Corresponding author: Diane August, PhD, Center for Applied Linguistics, 4646 40th St, NW, Washington, DC 20016 (e-mail:

The work reported in this article is supported through a program project grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Development and the Office of Educational Sciences, US Department of Education. The grant supported three subprojects; the work reported in this article was conducted by researchers working in one of the subprojects. The grant enabled the researchers to collaborate across institutions and conduct longitudinal research over the course of 5 years.

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins