LINGUIST List 13.2441

Wed Sep 25 2002

Review: Applied Linguistics: Oller & Eilers (2002)

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  1. Sunita Singh, Oller & Eilers (2002), Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children

Message 1: Oller & Eilers (2002), Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 15:08:25 +0000
From: Sunita Singh <>
Subject: Oller & Eilers (2002), Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children

Oller, Kimbrough and Rebecca E. Eilers, eds. (2002)
Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children.
Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-570-5,
Child Language and Child Development No. 2.

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Sunita Singh, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


This book is a methodological as well as theoretical contribution to
the study of bilingualism in linguistics and language and literacy in
education. It weaves in the socio-cultural/political as well as
cognitive aspects of the phenomenon of bilingualism. The results from
assessments in both languages of the bilingual and comparison of the
results with those of the monolinguals gives an insight as to the
complexities a study amongst bilingual individuals needs to
incorporate. The assessments give a holistic picture of the bilingual
since they include effects of linguistic and metacognitive skills of
the bilinguals, socio-economic status, interplay of languages spoken
at home and the classroom and different methods of instruction in the
classroom, either immersion in a single language or divided to
incorporate the home and the school language during different parts of
the day. The main concerns addressed in the book are whether
bilingualism causes cognitive or educational damage to the children or
is it a source of enrichment for them cognitively and
educationally. The different studies in the book are all based on the
same pool of subjects in the Miami, and this enables to maintain a
continuum in the different chapters even though it is an edited


The book comprises twelve chapter divided into four parts. Part 1
including chapters 1 and 2 frames the background of the study
including the variables, the subjects and the setting. Part 2
consisting of chapters 3 through 6, describe the results of the
performance of the students on the standardized tests and language
use. Part 3 in chapters 7 through 11 addresses studies of the
phonological, morphological, syntactic and discourse structures in the
bilingual language performance. Part 4 discusses the theoretical
implications of the different studies and responds to the questions
discussed in Part 1.

PART 1 Background
Chapter 1, Assessing the Effects of Bilingualism: A Background (D. K.
Oller and B.Z. Pearson), addresses the issue that the effects of
bilingual education for students who have limited English proficiency
(LEP) can be captured only when the study incorporates factors of
varying socioeconomic status (SES), takes into account the home as
well as school language, assessment is done in both home and school
languages and different instructional patterns, total immersion
program as well as two-way bilingualism methods are compared.

Chapter 2, An Integrated Approach to Evaluating Effects of
Bilingualism in Miami School Children: The Study Design(D. K. Oller &
R. E. Eilers) outlines the basic methodology used for the study in the
consecutive chapters. It highlights the dependent variables used for
the study to be the English and the Spanish oral language as well as
academic performance based on evaluation of linguistic variables and
standardized tests. The study is based in Miami. The main significance
of the study is the incorporation of (SES), language spoken at home
(LSH), and methods of instruction at school (IMS) as the independent
variables and the Miami situation provides a perspective where one can
build upon these variables.

PART 2: Overall Results on Language Use and Standardized Test Performance
Chapter 3, Bilingualism and Cultural Assimilation in Miami Hispanic
Children R. (E. Eilers, D. K. Oller & A. B. Cobo-Lewis), provides a
thick description regarding the language use (Spanish or English) in
the schools. The first aim was to see whether a particular
instructional method (English immersion or dual language) allowed for
more use of one language than specified for in the curriculum. The
second aim was to see the pattern of language used by the children,
taking into account variables for language maintenance /shift.

Chapter 4, Effects of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education on Oral and
Written English Skills (A. B. Cobo-Lewis, B. Z. Pearson, R. E. Eilers
& V. C. Umbel) probes the influence and interaction of the independent
variables on the performance of the bilingual and the monolingual
children. Specifically, it aims to see the role of SES in their
performance with respect to the different IMS and LSH as well as the
change in performance of the bilinguals across the grades.

Chapter 5, Effects of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education on Oral and
Written Spanish Skills (A. B. Cobo-Lewis, B. Z. Pearson, R. E. Eilers
& V. C. Umbel) aims to see the performance of the Spanish speaking
children and the interaction of the SES, IMS and LSH in the assessment
of language and literacy. It also includes a comparative performance
of the bilingual children with respect to the monolingual norms.

Chapter 6, Interdependence of Spanish and English Knowledge in
Language and Literacy among Bilingual Children (A. B. Cobo-Lewis,
R. E. Eilers, B Z Pearson & V. C. Umbel) intends to see the relation
in the performance of the bilinguals in English and
Spanish. Additive/subtractive nature of the bilingualism was
investigated and the correlation between the variables of SES, LSH and
IMS and relation between the performance in the two languages, if any.

PART 3: Probe Studies on Complex Language Capabilities
Chapter 7, Narrative Competence among Monolingual and Bilingual School
Children in Miami (B. Z. Pearson), tests the hypotheses that the
relationship in the narrative performance in one language will be
related to another, though the different elements that make up this
measure might not be necessarily related and a two-way instruction for
the bilinguals will enhance their performance.

Chapter 8, Command of the Mass/count Distinction in Bilingual and
Monolingual Children (V. C. Mueller Gathercole)

Chapter 9, Grammatical Gender in Bilingual and Monolingual Children
(V. C. Mueller Gathercole)

Chapter 10, Monolingual and Bilingual Acquisition: Learning Different
Treatments of that-trace Phenomenon in English and Spanish
(V. C. Mueller Gathercole)

These three chapters investigate the similarity/differences in the
timing and patterns of the acquisition of morphosyntactic elements in
English and Spanish between the bilingual and the monolingual
children. These chapters also investigate the role of the variables
used in the study (SES, LSH and IMS) in the acquisition of the
morphosyntactic features. In chapters 8 and 9, the aim is to see the
acquisition of mass/count distinction in English and gender in Spanish
amongst monolingual and bilingual children since Spanish does not have
a mass/count distinction and English does not have grammatical gender
whereas Spanish does. The secondary aim is also to see whether there
is any difference in the acquisition of these elements and that-trace
phenomenon, an attribution of universal grammar.

Chapter 11, The Ability of Bilingual and Monolingual Children to
Perform Phonological Translation (D. K. Oller and A. B. Cobo-Lewis)
investigates whether bilinguals have a singular phonological knowledge
that may aid in their reading and points out to some novel
relationships between phonological abilities and literacy skills.

PART 4: A Retrospective View of the Research
Chapter 12, Balancing Interpretations Regarding Effects of
Bilingualism (D. K. Oller and R. E. Eilers) is a summary statement of
the investigations in the previous chapters. This chapter discusses
the needs of educational implications for a study in bilingualism with
the interaction of the factors of SES, IMS and LSH. It points out to
the educational practices that can be most beneficial to the bilingual
children without obstructing their development in English Two way


The book is an invaluable contribution to research in bilingualism in
fields of linguistics as well as language and literacy. The thick
description certainly is an asset to researchers interested in
research on similar lines. The extensive sample used for the study is
certainly an asset to the field. Even though the investigators do not
use longitudinal data and it becomes difficult to see the
developmental process, the sample from different grades fills the
present aim. The blending of the investigations into literacy and
language capturing the assessment in both skills gives a holistic
picture of the bilingual nature of individuals.

Though this text uses standardized tests for the measurement of
literacy skills taking into account variables of SES, IMS and LSH, the
use of standardized tests is not favored by all researchers because of
the problems faced by the use of these tests. The Spanish and the
English versions were used and the use of assessments in the native
language is what the second language learners need (p. 68). These
standardized tests are normed in English and in Spanish, but since the
Spanish speaking children were tested in English also, the English
tests were used for them were the same as used for the monolingual
English speakers. Valdes and Figueroa (1994, p. 172) highlight a
problem in these kinds of assessments by pointing out to the use of
tests not normed on the population it is tested on. They point out
that it amounts to doing of tasks they do not know how to do. In this
case, the English versions would be normed on the English speaking
population but used by bilingual Spanish speaking children. Another
question that arises with regard to the standardized tests is that
whether they assess the school philosophy and the classroom
curriculum. A study by Carlise and Beeman (2000, pp. 339) talks about
the inappropriateness of the assessment of literacy acquisition of
second language learners only using standardized tests. Though the
research does include observations of the language spoken by the
students, but also the assessment is done in several schools, it is a
problem to make the assessment reflect the classroom curriculum.

The inclusion of the language spoken at home as one of the variables
lends itself to the strength of the study and allows one to see the
relation between the language spoken at home and the language spoken
at school. Siraj-Blatchford and Clarke (2000, p. 22) point out to the
fact that childhood educators need to be familiar with the home of the
children, their social class, status, culture, home language, and
provide an environment in their classroom that is supportive of their
needs since these children are feared to be marginalized and have
anxiety in starting out their schooling experiences. Though the
research takes into account the home language, it is hoped that the
teachers do that too in forming their classroom routines. In the
recent years there have been studies stressing on the need to
establish home-school connections and consequently the need to
investigate home literacy as well. Since the aim of the book is not
just an evaluation of the acquisition patterns but also offering
practical solutions as to instructional methods used in the school,
the strength could have been enhanced if family literacy was also
included as an integral part, not just language spoken at home. Nickse
(1990) also points out to the fact that the first and the best
teachers for the children are their parents/families and Jalongo
(2000, p. 45) points to the fact that if parents and teachers work in
harmony, much more can be achieved.

One question that arises for me is the conclusion regarding the
language systems of the child, that the systems develop independently
(p. 253). I wonder if the assessments had any evidence of
code-switching and how does one account for code-switching in the
early ages? Bertha and Torres-Guzman (1996, 23) point out that the use
of two languages (Spanish and English) actually is equivalent to one
language system for the child.

The pessimistic note of the authors regarding the Miami situation
seems a little disheartening in that even the standing of the Latin
culture is unable to counter the forces of English dominance and
children continue to give preference to English and continued
immigration is the only solution for language maintenance (p. 63).


Carlisle, Joanne F. and Beeman, Margaret M. 2000. The Effects of
Language of Instruction on the Reading and Writing Achievement of
First-Grade Hispanic Children Scientific Studies of Reading, 4(4),
331-353, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Jalongo, Mary Reneck, 2000. Early Childhood Language Arts Second
Edition. Allyn and Bacon.

Nickse, R. S. 1990. Family and Intergenerational Literacy Programs.
Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearing House on Adult, Career, and Vocational
Education, Number RI88062005.

Perez Bertha and Maria E Torres-Guzman. 1996. Learning in two worlds -
An integrated Spanish/English Biliteracy Approach. Longman Publishers,

Siraj-Blatchford, Priscilla Clarke. 2000. Supporting Identity,
Diversity and Language in the Early Years. Open University
Press. Buckingham, Philadelphia. 


Sunita Singh is a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and
Instruction at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has a
Masters degree in Psycholinguistics and is currently specializing in
reading and writing in the early grades. A native of India, she has
worked as an Assistant Editor for a publishing house in Delhi that
specializes in publishing text books in Hindi and in English for
schools (K-12). She has presented papers on early literacy and
linguistics at conferences in India and the US. Her current interests
are teacher ideologies and teaching practices in classrooms with
students of diverse language backgrounds, including Latino Mexican
immigrants and African American children.
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