Differential acquisition of English letter -sound correspondences in bilingual and monolingual primary students

Laura Barckmann Raynolds, Fordham University


Bilingual children learning to read and write in their second-language face the unique challenge of mapping letters onto sounds that do not exist in their native language. In early invented spelling young bilingual children can show us how they perceive the unique L2 sounds by their choice of letters as they represent sounds in words. There is a paucity of research on the spelling of bilingual children, especially with those children who do not receive native language instruction. This study compared the spelling of young Spanish-English bilingual and English monolingual children. Non-Spanish phonemes and English phonemes differing from their Spanish counterparts in voice onset time were examined. The relationships between lower level auditory discrimination skills and invented spelling, and the relationship between English vocabulary acquisition and spelling were also studied. Twenty bilingual children completing kindergarten, all of whom began to acquire English at 4 years of age and received literacy instruction only in English, were matched for phonemic awareness and English letter-sound knowledge with twenty monolingual children also ending kindergarten and attending the same school. A nonword and an English real word auditory discrimination assessment as well as a spelling assessment were created to study how non-Spanish sounds were perceived and spelled. The PPVT-3 was also administered. Results showed no significant difference between the monolingual group and the bilingual group on the nonword test. However, the monolingual group made significantly fewer mistakes on the English real word auditory discrimination and spelling assessment than did the bilingual group. Bilingual children also chose different letters to represent non-Spanish sounds in their mistakes than did the monolingual children, extending the work of Fashola, Drum, Mayer, and Kang (1996). The amount of English vocabulary known by the students was also found to be correlated with correct spelling, supporting Metsala and Walley's lexical restructuring model (1998). Taken together, these results support and extend Werker and Tees' cascading model of phonological acquisition (2005) and suggest that the bilingual children who began to acquire their L2 as early as the age of four experienced L1 phonological interference as the tasks became more complex.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Elementary education|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Raynolds, Laura Barckmann, "Differential acquisition of English letter -sound correspondences in bilingual and monolingual primary students" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3262837.