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Review of  Language and Literacy In Bilingual Children

Reviewer: Sunita Singh
Book Title: Language and Literacy In Bilingual Children
Book Author: Rebecca E. Eilers D. Kimbrough Oller
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 13.2441

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Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2002 01:32:43 -0500
From: Sunita Singh
Subject: Applied Linguistics: 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.

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 volume.

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

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

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

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

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, USA

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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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