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The metalinguistic benefits of limited contact with a second language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

Gregory W. Yelland*
Monash University
Jacinta Pollard
Monash University
Anthony Mercuri
Monash University
Gregory W. Yelland, Department of Psychology, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia, e-mail:


This study examined whether the often-reported metalinguistic benefits of childhood bilingualism extend to children whose experience with a second language is considerably more limited, and if so, whether this metalinguistic advantage flows on to reading acquisition. Its purpose was to provide direct evidence of a causal role for metalinguistic awareness in reading acquisition. The study focused on the developing word awareness skills of two groups of preparatory and grade 1 children: one group was strictly monolingual in English; the other, the “marginal bilingual” group, consisted of English monolingual who were participating in a second language program that provided I hour of Italian instruction each week.After only 6 months of instruction in Italian, the marginal bilingual children showed a significantly higher level word awareness than their monolingual counterparts. This advantage weakened across grade 1, as both groups approached ceiling levels of performance. Nonetheless, the initial advantage flows through to the first major step in reading acquisition, with the grade 1 marginal bilinguals showing significantly greater word recognition skill than the monolinguals, thus strengthening the argument for a causal role in reading acquisition for word awareness.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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