Differences in phonological awareness performance
Are there positive or negative effects of bilingual experience?
Children who have knowledge of two languages may show better phonological awareness than their monolingual peers (e.g. Bruck & Genesee, 1995). It remains unclear how much bilingual experience is needed for such advantages to appear, and whether differences in language or cognitive skills alter the relation between bilingualism and phonological awareness. These questions were investigated in this cross-sectional study. Participants (n = 294; 4–7 year-olds, in the first three grades of primary school) were Dutch-speaking pupils attending mainstream monolingual Dutch primary schools or early-English schools providing English lessons from grade 1, and simultaneous Dutch-English bilinguals. We investigated phonological awareness (rhyming, phoneme blending, onset phoneme identification, and phoneme deletion) and its relation to age, Dutch vocabulary, English vocabulary, working memory and short-term memory, and the balance between Dutch and English vocabulary. Small significant (α < .05) effects of bilingualism were found on onset phoneme identification and phoneme deletion, but post-hoc comparisons revealed no robust pairwise differences between the groups. Furthermore, effects of bilingualism sometimes disappeared when differences in language or memory skills were taken into account. Learning two languages simultaneously is not beneficial to – and importantly, also not detrimental to – phonological awareness.
Keywords: early-English education, bilingualism, phonological awareness, vocabulary, memory
Published online: 29 October 2019
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