Double Literacy Effects on Language and Reading Skills in Italian–English Primary School Children
Keywords:bilingualism, literacy acquisition, double literacy, reading proficiency, language, primary school
Major concerns still surround literacy education in a foreign language during primary school. In this study, we aim to establish (1) whether bilinguals perform worse in Italian literacy tests than monolinguals; (2) whether literacy skills transfer from Italian to English. We tested 97 Italian–English bilingual first, third and fifth graders (attending two bilingual primary schools in Italy, with a simultaneous 50:50 immersion programme) and a control group of 40 monolingual Italian pupils in grades 1 and 3. All participants were tested in Italian, measuring the following skills: vocabulary, phonological awareness, reading proficiency and verbal short-term memory. Bilingual participants – who had been exposed to Italian since birth and to English within the first three years of their lives – were also tested on the same measures in English. The results showed that bilingual first graders outperformed their monolingual peers in verbal short-term memory, thus revealing a possible cognitive advantage in the early stage of literacy acquisition. Monolingual and bilingual firstand third graders did not differ in reading speed. The two groups made an almost similar number of errors, but the small difference turned out to be statistically significant. Bilingual subjects’ reading attainment was found to be within monolingual normal limits in both languages on all measures except for English reading comprehension, which, together with English vocabulary, was found to be below the English norm. Aside from reading comprehension, on all other measures bilingual children’s performance in Italian correlated with their performance in English, suggesting the presence of cross-linguistic transfer of language and reading skills.
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