Reading in Any Language Improves Reading Levels in English

A new study shows early reading in any language helps children learn to read English. The study, titled English Reading Growth in Spanish-Speaking Bilingual Students: Moderating Effect of English Proficiency on Cross-Linguistic Influence by Jackie Eunjung Relyea of Harvard University and Steven J. Amendum of the University of Delaware. The study found that children whose native language is Spanish and had early reading skills in Spanish had greater growth in their ability to read English.

The study also found that children who spoke Spanish and had stronger Spanish reading skills in kindergarten performed better across time, and performed stronger than their Spanish-speaking peers who had higher levels of fluency in English but less proficient in reading Spanish. According to the study. “findings from this study highlight potential interdependence, or cross-language influence, of Spanish and English reading skills evident at a younger age than typically hypothesized.”

“Given that students with stronger initial Spanish reading performance outperformed students with weaker Spanish reading performance at the beginning of kindergarten, researchers should further investigate the influence of Spanish emergent literacy skills on English literacy achievement and development overtime.”

The study suggests that native-language measures in studies of bilingual students’  language acquisition of new languages and literacy achievement and growth may provide additional explanations for future studies. Since, in the study, English oral proficiency in the fall of kindergarten significantly predicted the initial level of English reading achievement but not rates of growth, more information about language levels of bilingual students in their native languages can be indicative of their future growth in reading-levels in English. For parents and caretakers, this means that reading to children in any language will impact their future in learning new languages in the future.

Jackie Eunjung Relyea et al. English Reading Growth in Spanish‐Speaking Bilingual Students: Moderating Effect of English Proficiency on Cross‐Linguistic Influence, Child Development (2019). DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13288

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