Skip to main content

The metalinguistic benefits of limited contact with a second language

  • Gregory W. Yelland (a1), Jacinta Pollard (a1) and Anthony Mercuri (a1)

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.

Corresponding author
Gregory W. Yelland, Department of Psychology, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia, e-mail:
Hide All
Allan K. K. (1982). The development of young children's metalinguistic understanding of the term word. Journal of Educational Research, 76, 8993.
Ball E. W. & Blachman B. A. (1991). Does phoneme awareness training in kindergarten make a difference in early word recognition and developmental spelling? Reading Research Quarterly, 26, 4966.
Bates E. (1979). The emergence of symbols: Cognition and communication in infancy. New York: Academic.
Ben Zeev S. (1977). The influence of bilingualism on cognitive strategy and cognitive development. Child Development, 48, 10091018.
Bialystok E. (1986). Children's concept of word. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 15, 1332.
Bialystok E. (1987). Words as things: Development of word concept by bilingual children. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 9, 133140.
Bialystok E. (1988). Levels of bilingualism and levels of linguistic awareness. Developmental Psychology, 24, 560567.
Bradley L. & Bryant P. E. (1983). Categorizing sounds and learning to read - A causal connection. Nature, 301, 419421.
Bruce D. J. (1964). An analysis of word sounds by young children. British Journal of Experimental Psychology, 34, 158170.
Bryant P. E., MacLean M., Bradley L. L. & Crossland J. (1990). Rhyme and alliteration, phoneme detection, and learning to read. Developmental Psychology, 26, 429438.
Byrne B., Freebody P. & Gates A. (1992). Longitudinal data on the relations of word-reading strategies to comprehension, reading time, and phonemic awareness. Reading Research Quarterly, 27, 141151.
Chomsky C. (1970). Reading, writing and phonology. Harvard Educational Review, 40, 287309.
Chomsky N. (1970). Phonology and reading. In Levin H. & Williams J. P. (Eds.), Basic studies in reading (pp. 319). New York: Basic.
Coltheart M., Patterson K. & Marshall J. C. (1980). Deep dyslexia. London: Rutledge & Kegan Paul.
Cummins J. (1978). Bilingualism and the development of metalinguistic awareness. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 9, 131149.
Davine M., Tucker G. R. & Lambert W. E. (1971). The perception of phoneme sequences by monolingual and bilingual elementary school children. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 3, 7276.
Diaz R. M. (1985). Bilingual cognitive development: Addressing three gaps in current research. Child Development, 56, 13761388.
Ellis A. W. (1984). Reading, writing and dyslexia: A cognitive analysis. London: Erlbaum.
Feldman C. & Shen M. (1971). Some language related cognitive advantages of bilingual five year olds. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 118, 235244.
Fox B. & Routh D. K. (1975). Analyzing spoken language into words, syllables, and phonemes: A developmental study. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 4, 331342.
Galambos S. J. & Goldin-Meadow S. (1990). The effects of learning two languages on metalinguistic awareness. Cognition, 34, 156.
Galambos S. J. & Hakuta K. (1988). Subject specific and task-specific characteristics of metalinguistic awareness in bilingual children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 9, 141162.
Gelman S. & Ebeling K. S. (1989). Children's use of nonegocentric standards in judgments of functional size. Child Development, 60, 920932.
Gough P. B. & Hillinger M. L. (1980). Learning to read: An unnatural act. Bulletin of the Orton Society, 30, 179196.
Hakuta K. & Diaz R. M. (1985). The relationship between degree of bilingualism and cognitive ability: A critical discussion and some longitudinal data. In Nelson K. E. (Ed.), Children's language (Vol. 5, pp. 319344). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Harris M. & Coltheart M. (1986). Language processing in children and adults: An introduction. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Heilman A. W., Blair T. R. & Rupley W. H. (1981). Principles and practices of teaching reading. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Helfgott J. A. (1976). Phonemic segmentation and blending skills of kindergarten children. Implications for beginning reading acquisition. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 1, 157169.
Ianco-Worrall A. (1972). Bilingualism and cognitive development. Child Development, 43, 13901400.
Kirtley C., Bryant P., MacLean M. & Bradley L. (1989). Rhyme, rime, and the onset of reading. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 48, 224245.
Kolinsky R., Cary L. & Morais J. (1987). Awareness of words as phonological entities. Applied Psycholinguistics, 8, 223232.
Lewkowicz N. K. (1980). Phonemic awareness training: What to teach and how to teach it. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 686700.
Liberman I. Y. (1973). Segmentation of the spoken word. Bulletin of the Orton Society, 23, 6577.
Liberman I. Y. & Shankweiler D. (1985). Phonology and the problems of learning to read and write. Remedial and Special Education, 6, 817.
Liberman I. Y., Shankweiler D., Fischer F. W. & Carter B. (1974). Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 18, 201212.
Liberman I. Y., Shankweiler D. & Liberman A. L. (1989). The alphabetic principle and learning to read. In Liberman I. Y. & Shankweiler D. (Eds.), Phonology and reading disability: Solving the reading puzzle (pp. 133). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Lie A. (1991). Effects of a training program for stimulating skills in word analysis in firstgrade children. Reading Research Quarterly, 26, 234249.
Lundberg I., Frost J. & Petersen O-P. (1988). Effects of an extensive program for stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 263284.
Lundberg I., Olofsson A. & Wall S. (1980). Reading and spelling skills in the first school years predicted from phonemic awareness skills in kindergarten. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 21, 159173.
Majeres R. L. & Fox R. (1984). Children's spontaneous use of real-world information in problem solving. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 144, 8997.
Mann V. A. (1986). Phonological awareness, the role of reading experience. Cognition, 24, 6592.
Mann V. A. & Liberman I. Y. (1984). Phonological awareness and verbal short-term memory. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 17, 592598.
Nesdale A. R., Herriman M. L. & Tunmer W. E. (1984). Phonological awareness in children. In Tunmer W. E., Pratt C. & Herriman M. L. (Eds.), Metalinguistic awareness in children: Theory, research and implications (pp. 5672). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Olofsson A. & Lundberg I. (1985). Evaluation of long term effects of phonemic awareness training in kindergarten: Illustrations of some methodological problems in evaluating research. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 26, 2134.
Piaget J. (1929). The child's conception of the world. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Pisoni D. B. & Luce P. A. (1987). Acoustic-phonetic representation in word recognition. In Frauenfelder U. H. & Tyler L. K. (Eds.), Spoken word recognition (pp. 2152). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ravn K. E. & Gelman S. A. (1984). Rule usage in children's understanding of “big” and “little”. Child Development, 55, 21412150.
Raz I. S. & Bryant P. (1990). Social background, phonological awareness and children's reading. British Journal of Experimental Psychology, 8, 209225.
Rubin H. & Turner A. (1989). Linguistic awareness skills in grade one children in a French immersion setting. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, I, 7386.
Santa J. L., Miller J. J. & Shaw M. L. (1979). Using Quasi Flo prevent alpha inflation due to stimulus variation. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 3746.
Sera M. D., Troyer D. & Smith L. B. (1988). What do two-year-olds know about the sizes of things? Child Development, 59, 14891496.
Shankweiler D. (1989). How problems in comprehension are related to difficulties in decoding. In Liberman I. Y. & Shankweiler D. (Eds.), Phonology and reading disability: Solving the reading puzzle (pp. 3568). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Share D. L., Jorm A. F., Maclean R. & Matthews R. (1984). Sources of individual differences in reading acquisition. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76, 13091324.
Templeton S. & Spivey E. (1980). The concept of word in young children as a function of level of cognitive development. Research in Teaching of English, 14, 265278.
Treiman R. & Baron J. (1983). Phonemic-analysis training helps children benefit from spelling-sound rules. Memory & Cognition, 11, 382389.
Tunmer W. E. (1989). The role of language related factors in reading disability. In Liberman I. Y. & Shankweiler D. (Eds.), Phonology and reading disability: Solving the reading puzzle (pp. 91131). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Tunmer W. E. & Bowey J. A. (1984). Metalinguistic awareness and reading acquisition. In Tunmer W. E., Pratt C. & Herriman M. L. (Eds.), Metalinguistic awareness in children: Theory, research and implications (pp. 144168). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Tyler L. & Marslen-Wilson W. D. (1981). Quick on the uptake. New Scientist, 89, 608609.
Van Kleeck A. & C. M Schuele. (1987). Precursors to literacy: Normal development. Topics in Language Disorders, 7, 1331.
Vellutino F. R. & Scanlon D. M. (1987). Phonological coding, phonological awareness, and reading ability: Evidence from a longitudinal and experimental study. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 33, 321363.
Vygotsky L. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work published 1962)
Wagner R. K. & J. K. Torgesen (1987). The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 192212.
Wallach M. & Wallach L. (1976). Teaching all children to read. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 100 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 793 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.