Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children: Interdependence or Independence?

Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children: Interdependence or Independence?

by Raphael Berthele, Amelia Lambelet

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This book discusses literacy development in heritage language speakers and presents the results of four different quantitative studies that investigate the transfer of literacy skills in bi- and multilingual language development. The empirical studies focus on different populations of pupils, most of them located in various parts of Switzerland, and emphasise the potential residing in shared or transferred resources between their heritage languages and the languages spoken in the region to which their family has immigrated. The goal of all studies was to gain an understanding of the factors, both linguistic and non-linguistic in nature, that contribute to the development of language skills in both the heritage and school languages. Theoretical assumptions are put to the test via hypothesis testing and the generally shared assumptions on bilingual education are questioned based on the data. Furthermore, methodological problems in the investigation of linguistic interdependence are discussed. This book contributes to the scholarly investigation of potential beneficial effects in academic proficiency across languages in migrant children.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783099061
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 11/15/2017
Series: Second Language Acquisition
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Raphael Berthele is Professor of Multilingualism at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He directs the MA programme in multilingualism studies and co-founded the Fribourg Institute of Multilingualism in 2008. His wide-ranging research interests include both cognitive and social aspects of multilingualism.

Amelia Lambelet is Senior Researcher at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Her research interests include individual differences in foreign language learning, receptive multilingualism and heritage speakers’ language development.

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Investigating Interdependence and Literacy Development in Heritage Language Speakers: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

Raphael Berthele and Amelia Lambelet

Multilingualism, Transfer and Literacy Development

Bilingualism and multilingualism in migrant children has been a research topic in applied linguistics for many years (see P o linsky & Kagan [2007] for an overview). The sociolinguistic situation of children who are confronted with a minority language at home (their heritage language) and a majority language in their everyday life has also been widely documented and compared to other types of bilingual and multilingual development (Montrul, 2012). Historically, linguists' engagement with the topic has gradually developed from deficit views to a resource-oriented view. Deficit-oriented views put the emphasis on the difficulties encountered by these multilingual children, as the term 'incomplete acquisition' (Montrul, 2008) suggests. Some authors even argued that in certain contexts, individuals fail to develop functional skills in either of their two languages, as in the semilingualism view advocated by Hansegård (1975; see discussion of this notion below). The resource-oriented views, on the other hand, put the emphasis on the possibilities that bi- and multilingualism enable (e.g. Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy, 2005). This positive view of multilingualism puts the emphasis on the potential of transfer on different levels: on the linguistic level and on the level of strategies of language learning and use. Today, it is quite common in scholarly debate to stress this positive transfer potential together with the idea of an added value of being bior multilingual (e.g. in the domain of cognitive control cf. Bialystok et al. [2004]; but see also Paap & Greenberg [2013] for a critical discussion of the evidence on the bilingual advantage).

The purpose of this book is to describe migrant children's language development, and in particular the potential residing in shared or transferred resources between their heritage languages and the languages spoken in the region where their family has immigrated. More precisely, the focus of the book lies on the development of their literacy skills in both languages. In this book, we refer to literacy as the skills necessary for reading and writing, although we are well aware of the fact that it is 'impossible to give a clear and bounded definition of [it]' (Brockmeyer & Olson, 2009: 4). Our take on literacy is deliberately focusing literacy as a skill (Baker, 2006: 321), although we are aware that other, more critical and more wide-ranging approaches to literacy (e.g. New London Group, 1996; Street, 2006) have been proposed. We chose our focus to match the literacy objectives of the educational systems in which our studies are situated. Skills required in such 'traditional' reading and writing tasks are considered central in educational selection, which justifies the focus in the research reported in this book.

Thus, this book contributes to the scholarly investigation of the potential beneficial effects in academic proficiency across languages in migrant children. After addressing the most central terminological and theoretical issues (Chapter 1), we discuss evidence from four empirical studies on heritage language speakers in different educational and linguistic contexts (Chapters 2–9). The common research goal of all studies was to understand the factors, both linguistic and non-linguistic in nature, that contribute to the development of language skills in the heritage and the school languages. To use a term that is well established in the literature in this field, the research presented in this book attempts to assess the level of 'interdependence' of different languages in the individual multilingual speakers' repertoires.

The theories and terminology used in this book mainly stem from bilingualism and heritage language speakers research. However, since in most situations discussed, more than two languages are part of the speakers' repertoires, we also draw on multilingualism research. Therefore, the participants in the studies are referred to both as 'multilinguals' and as 'bilinguals'. All participants in the studies presented in this book are multilinguals with at least three languages or varieties in their linguistic repertoires: their heritage language(s), their language of instruction, often a local dialect in informal communication (e.g. Alemannic Swiss German) and additional foreign languages taught at school. The children in the non-heritage language comparison groups use a repertoire composed of at least the latter two languages and varieties. The authors of this book also use the terms 'bilingualism' and 'bilinguals' since in all research projects the focus lies on two particularly important languages in this repertoire, the language of instruction and the heritage language.

Investigating Interdependence and Literacy Development in Heritage Language Speakers 3 The deficit-oriented view of bi- and multilingualism, the semilingualism concept, has been questioned by bilingualism scholars (MacSwan, 2000; Martin-Jones & Romaine, 1986). Most contemporary scholars working on bi- and multilingual development tend to emphasise the futility of comparisons of bi- or multilingual repertoires to idealised monolingual norms, since bilingualism and multilingualism unavoidably lead to a different type of language competence (Bley-Vroman, 1983; Cook, 2002; Grosjean, 1985, 1989; Herdina & Jessner, 2002). This is often done by explicitly referring to the idea of crosslinguistic influence and transfer across languages (Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2007) and/or to resources shared by all languages in the repertoire (Cummins, 1980, 2005). As discussed in the section 'Metaphor of Transfer', it is often difficult to clearly distinguish the idea of transfer and the idea of interdependence of languages in the repertoire in the scholarly literature.

As the literature in this field often construes the notion of transfer very broadly, including the effects of a common underlying proficiency for academic language use that are the typical instantiations of linguistic interdependence (see Cummins, [1980] 2001: 131), it is important to start by clarifying the theoretical foundations and the terminological conventions adopted for our book.

The metaphor of transfer

The literature on transfer and interdependence involves a confusing degree of conceptual and terminological heterogeneity due to various reformulations and revisions of some of the central ideas. Our intention in this chapter is not to give a comprehensive account of the various versions of the hypotheses of the dynamics within the bilinguals' or multilinguals' languages. The main goal is instead to discuss the most central assumptions underlying transfer and interdependence research and to come up with a suitable set of terms for the discussion of the empirical research presented in this book.

The notion of transfer in second language acquisition (SLA), third language acquisition (TLA), multilingualism research and bilingualism research is always metaphorical. Literal transfer would mean that a linguistic phenomenon is taken from a donor language and carried into another (receiving) language, and is thus no longer present in the source language. Instead, most definitions of transfer capture processes such as copying (J ohanson, 2002) or the replication (M atras, 2009) of matter or patterns of the model or source language in the replica or target language. The term 'pattern replication' refers to the replication of a (semantic or syntactic) feature of the model language using matter of the recipient language. The term 'matter replication' refers to the replication of morphemes, words or even longer chunks from a model language in a receiving language – an example of matter replication is the emergence of loanwords in language contact situations. An example of 'pattern replication' is discussed in Berthele (2015) : multilingual speakers of Romansh, when speaking Swiss German, tend to replicate the semantic category represented by a general verb 'metter' ('to put') in their dominant language Romansh. They do this by overgeneralising a German-caused posture verb 'legen' ('to lay' [transitive]), even when referring to events where monolingual speakers of German use other caused posture verbs such as 'setzen' ('to sit' [transitive]) or 'stellen' ('to stand' [transitive]). Depending on the normative point of view, such differences in the use of German can be considered 'deviations from the monolingual norm' or, within a multicompetence view of bi- and multilingualism, as 'convergence'. As research on bilinguals consistently shows, bilingualism both entails the borrowing of linguistic matter from one language into the other, as well as the convergence of linguistic patterns, e.g. on the level of syntax (Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008) or semantics (Berthele, 2012; Lambelet, 2012, 2016).

However, many influential definitions of transfer, e.g. the one by Odlin quoted below, include a wide variety of phenomena beyond matter and pattern replication:

Transfer is the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously (and perhaps imperfectly) acquired. (Odlin, 1989: 27)

Odlin's definition regards transfer in a much wider sense by including target language use patterns that can be explained very generally as the influence of the coexistence of two languages in the bi- or multilingual repertoire. Avoidance of constructions that are different (and perceived difficult) in the target language is an example of transfer in the wider sense: a multilingual might deliberately avoid the French 'il faut que ...' (It is necessary/obligatory that ...) that requires a subjunctive form of the subordinate clause if she or he is uncertain about the correct subjunctive morphology of that particular verb (see Laufer and Eliasson [1993] for a study of lexical avoidance). Other examples are stylistic and pragmatic choices. For instance, in the argumentative letters collected in the Heritage Language and School Language: Are Literacy Skills Transferable? (HELASCOT) research project (see the section 'Outline of the Book' and Chapters 2 and 5 of this book), some participants used emotional and affective ways of addressing the addressee for their letters to have more impact. As this socio-pragmatic plus often appears in both of the participant's languages, it could be argued that this particular pragmatic competence is transferred from one language to the other, or at least that it forms part of some kind of trans-linguistic pragmatic competence. This example illustrates the difficulty of distinguishing transfer in the wider sense from the idea of common underlying resources for two or more languages.

As a preliminary conclusion, we argue that the notion of transfer in bi- and multilingual repertoires can be considered a radial category with relatively good examples (prototypical transfer, transfer in the narrow sense) at its centre, and less typical examples (transfer in the wider sense) and fuzzy boundaries where transfer and shared resources overlap (see Figure 1.1).

Odlin's definition quoted above covers both positive and negative transfer (Odlin, 1989: 36). As can be observed in production data from many different types of multilinguals and second language (L2) users, there is ample evidence for negative and positive transfer (f or a review, see Pavlenko & Jarvis, 2002). Positive transfer potentially occurs when there is a match between the structures of a language x (Lx) and a language y (Ly), and negative transfer is likely to occur when there is a mismatch between both structures. The learners' mental processes underlying both kinds of transfer are the same. Positive transfer is particularly well-documented in the domain of receptive skills: research on the comprehension of cognate words (Berthele & Lambelet, 2009; Vanhove & Berthele, 2015), on L2 and third language (L3) reading (Kaiser et al., 2012; Lambelet & Mauron, 2015; Ringbom, 1992), as well as L3 listening comprehension (Haenni Hoti et al., 2010) suggests that transfer from previously learnt languages can help learners to break into a new foreign language.

Assumptions in transfer and interdependence research

As we have seen, the notion of transfer can refer to rather diverse processes (matter or pattern replication) leading to very different outcomes (avoidance, underproduction, rapid comprehension of the target language, but also errors, etc.). To come to grips with the notion of transfer and with the idea of shared proficiency in the literacy domain, we discuss three assumptions that inspire, as far as our knowledge of the literature is concerned, many studies on language transfer:

(a) Some instances of transfer are easily observable (surface elements) while others are more covert (underlying elements).

(b) There is an underlying proficiency that is not separate, but shared between an individual's languages: thus, what appears as transfer from one language into the other can also be explained by postulating a basis of shared, transversal abilities that are not tied to a particular language.

(c) Unfolding the potential of this shared underlying proficiency (b) may only be possible once a certain level of (first language [L1] and/or L2) proficiency is attained.

Overt and covert transfer

A first observation is that there are two kinds of transfer: some instances of transfer are easily observable while others are covert and therefore harder to investigate. Matter and pattern replication relate to what Shuy (1978) considers the 'visible' aspects of language proficiency (vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation). Shuy's iceberg metaphor, distinguishing between the visible and the invisible aspects of language proficiency, has been made widely known by Jim Cummins to scholars in bilingualism research. Cummins uses the iceberg metaphor to illustrate his dichotomy of basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive/academic language proficiency (CALP) (Cummins, 2008). CALP is 'students' ability to understand and express, in both oral and written modes, concepts and ideas that are relevant to success in school' (Cummins, 2008: 71). CALP is the locus of the covert forms of transfer. For instance, in reading comprehension, we can hypothetically assume that bilinguals, provided they have developed reading skills in their L1, can fruitfully make use of them in their other language. More specifically, knowing how to scan a newspaper article for specific information is similar in most languages, so knowledge of the text genre in question and how to exploit this knowledge in reading is useful for this task, regardless of the language the text is written in.

In Figure 1.2, we try to give an overarching taxonomy that integrates both the transfer of overt (e.g. linguistic matter and patterns) and covert elements (e.g. literacy-related elements such as knowledge about text genres). The figure is an attempt to give an overview of the various dynamics caused by the acquisition and use of the bi- or multilingual's languages. These processes are often referred to as crosslinguistic influence (see Kellerman & Smith, 1986; Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008: 3).

As suggested in Figure 1.2, we start from the notion of multilingual influence as the most general term referring to any effects that the presence of different languages in the individual repertoire may have on cognition and on linguistic outcomes in production and reception. Thus, this term is even more general than Odlin's definition of transfer, since it also covers phenomena that are unrelated to the influence of similarity or difference (e.g. reading strategies that are shared across languages in the repertoire). Such interaction is generally diagnosed based on a comparison of the linguistic behaviour of multilinguals to observed or idealised patterns of monolinguals (whatever a monolingual or 'native speaker' of a language in reality may be [see Davies, 2003]).


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Table of Contents

  1. Raphael Berthele and Amelia Lambelet: Investigating Interdependence and Literacy Development in Heritage Language Speakers: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations
  2. Amelia Lambelet, Raphael Berthele, Magalie Desgrippes, Carlos Pestana and Jan Vanhove: Testing Interdependence in Portuguese Heritage Speakers in Switzerland: The HELASCOT Project
  3. Magalie Desgrippes and Amelia Lambelet: On the Sociolinguistic Embedding of Portuguese Heritage Language Speakers in Switzerland: Socioeconomic Status and Home Literacy Environment (HELASCOT Project)
  4. Carlos Pestana, Amelia Lambelet and Jan Vanhove: Reading Comprehension Development in Portuguese Heritage Speakers in Switzerland (HELASCOT Project)
  5. Magalie Desgrippes, Amelia Lambelet and Jan Vanhove: The Development of Argumentative and Narrative Writing Skills in Portuguese Heritage Speakers in Switzerland (HELASCOT Project)
  6. Jan Vanhove and Raphael Berthele: Testing the Interdependence of Languages (HELASCOT Project)
  7. Urs Moser, Nicole Bayer and Martin J. Tomasik: Language Skill Transfer Effects: Moving from Heritage Language to School Language in Kindergarten
  8. Edina Krompàk: Promoting Multilingualism through Heritage Language Courses: New Perspectives on the Transfer Effect
  9. Lea Nieminen and Riikka Ullakonoja: The Development of Russian Heritage Pupils’ Writing Proficiency in Finnish and Russian
  10. Raphael Berthele: Assessing Heritage Languages and Interdependence: Why and How?

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