Skip to main content Accessibility help

The role of language of instruction and vocabulary in the English phonological awareness of Spanish–English bilingual children



This study explores influences on bilingual children's phonological awareness (PA) performance in English, examining the role of language of instruction and vocabulary. English monolingual and Spanish–English bilingual kindergartners and first graders receiving either English or Spanish literacy instruction were assessed in English PA and in English and Spanish vocabulary, as appropriate. Spanish-instructed bilinguals were more likely than English-instructed bilinguals or English monolinguals to treat diphthongs as two units, reflecting their analysis in Spanish phonology and orthography. Surprisingly, unbalanced bilinguals dominant in either English or Spanish scored better on English PA than children with approximately equal scores on the English and the Spanish vocabulary test. This finding suggests that familiarity with many lexical items within a language constitutes a source of analyzable phonological knowledge.


Corresponding author

Catherine E. Snow, Larsen Hall, Appian Way, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail:


Hide All
Bialystok E.2001. Bilingualism in development: Language, literacy, and cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Blachman B. 2000. Phonological awareness. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. III, pp. 483502). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Booth J. R., Perfetti C. A., & MacWhinney B.1999. Quick, automatic, and general activation of orthographic and phonological representations in young readers. Developmental Psychology, 35, 319.
Bosch L., Costa A., & Sebastián-Gallés N.2000. First and second language vowel perception in early bilinguals. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 12, 189221.
Bravo L., Villalón M., & Orellana E.2001. Procesos predictivos del aprendizaje inicial de la lectura en primero básico. Boletín de Investigación Educacional, Facultad de Educación, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 16, 149160.
Carlisle J. F., Beeman M., Davis L. H., & Spharim G.1999. Relationship of metalinguistic capabilities and reading achievement for children who are becoming bilingual. Applied Psycholinguistics, 20, 459478.
Cisero C. A., & Royer J. M.1995. The development and cross-language transfer of phonological awareness. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20, 275303.
Cohen J. 1960. A coefficient of agreement for nominal scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 20, 3746.
Cummins J.1979. Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children, Review of Educational Research, 49, 222251.
Defior S.1996. La consciencia fonológica y la adquisición de lectoescritura. Infancia y aprendizaje, 67–68, 91113.
Defior S., & Tudela P.1994. Effect of phonological training on reading and writing acquisition. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 6, 299320.
Denton C. A., Hasbrouck J. E., Weaver L. R., & Riccio C. A.2000. What do we know about phonological awareness in Spanish? Reading Psychology, 21, 335352.
Dickinson D. K., McCabe A., Clark-Chiarelli N., & Wolfe A.2004. Cross-language transfer of phonological awareness in low-income Spanish and English bilingual preschool children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 323348.
Domínguez A. B. 1994. Importancia de las habilidades de análisis fonológico en el aprendizaje de la lectura y de la escritura. Estudios de Psicología, 51, 5970.
Domínguez A. B. 1996. Evaluación de los efectos a largo plazo de la enseñanza de habilidades de análisis fonológico en el aprendizaje de la lectura y la escritura. Infancia y aprendizaje, 76, 8396.
Durgonoglu A. Y., Nagy W. E., & Hancin-Bhatt B. J.1993. Cross-language transfer of phonological awareness. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 453465.
Ehri L. C., Nunes S. R., Willows D. M., Schuster B. V., Yaghoub-Zadeh Z., & Shanahan T.2001. Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel's meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250287.
Fashola O. S., Drum P. A., Mayer R. E., & Kang S.1996. A cognitive theory of orthographic transitioning: Predictable errors in how Spanish-speaking children spell English words. American Educational Research Journal, 33, 825843.
Flege J. E. 1999. Age of learning and L2 speech. In D. Birdsong (Ed.), Second language acquisition and the critical period hypothesis (pp. 101131). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gass S. 1996. Transference and interference. In H. Goebl, P. H. Nelde, Z. Starý, & W. Wölck (Eds.), Contact linguistics: An international handbook of contemporary research (pp. 559567). Berlin: De Gruyter.
González M. J. 1996. Aprendizaje de lectura y conocimiento fonológico: Análisis evolutivo e implicaciones educativas. Infancia y Aprendizaje, 76, 97107.
Goswami U. 2000. Phonological and lexical processes. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. III, pp. 251267). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Jiménez J. E. 1996. Conciencia fonológica y retraso lector en una ortografía transparente. Infancia y aprendizaje, 76, 109121.
Lado R.1957. Linguistics across cultures. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Lambert W. E. 1975. Culture and language as factors in learning and education. In A. Wolfgang (Ed.), Education of immigrant students. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Major R. C.2001. Foreign accent: The ontogeny and phylogeny of second language phonology. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Metsala J. L. 1999. Young children's phonological awareness and nonword repetition as a function of vocabulary development. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 319.
Miccio A., Tabors P., Páez M., Hammer C., & Wagstaff D.2005. Vocabulary development in Spanish-speaking Head Start children of Puerto Rican descent. In J. Cohen, K. McAlister, K. Rolstad, & J. MacSwan (Eds.), ISB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism (pp. 16141617). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Morais J. 2003. Levels of phonological representation in skilled reading and in learning to read. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 16, 123151.
Nagy W. E., & Scott J. A.2000. Vocabulary processes. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.). Handbook of reading research(Vol. III). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ordónez C. L., Carlo M. S., Snow C. E., & McLaughlin B.2002. Depth and breadth of vocabulary in two languages: Which vocabulary skills transfer? Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 719728.
Quiroga T., Lemos-Britton Z., Mostafapour E., Abbott R. D., & Berninger V. W.2002. Phonological awareness and beginning reading in Spanish-speaking ESL first graders: Research into practice. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 85111.
Read C.1975. Children's categorization of speech sounds in English. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Silvén M., Niemi P., & Voeten M. J. M.2002. Do maternal interaction and early language predict phonological awareness in 3- to 4-year-olds? Cognitive Development, 17, 11331155.
Slavin R. E., & Madden N. A.2001. One million children: Success for all. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Snow C. E., Burns M. S., & Griffin P. (Eds.). 1998. Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Tabors P. O., Páez M., & López L. M.2003. Dual language abilities of bilingual four-year-olds: Initial findings from the Early Childhood Study of Language and Literacy Development of Spanish-speaking children. NABE Journal of Research & Practice, 1, 7091.
Templeton S., & Bear D. R.1992. Development of orthographic knowledge and the foundations of literacy: A memorial festschrift for Edmund H. Henderson. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Treiman R., & Cassar M.1997. Can children and adults focus on sound as opposed to spelling in a phoneme counting task? Developmental Psychology, 33, 771780.
Verhoeven L. 2000. Components in early second language reading and spelling. Scientific Studies of Reading, 4, 313331.
Vernon-Feagans L., Scheffner Hammer C., Miccio A., & Manlove E.2002. Early language and literacy skills in low-income African American and Hispanic children. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research. New York: Guilford Press.
Wade-Woolley L., & Geva E.2000. Processing novel phonemic contrasts in the acquisition of L2 word reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 4, 295311.
Wagner R. K., Torgesen J. K., Rashotte C. A., Hecht S. A., Barker T. A., Burgess S. R., et al. 1997. Changing relations between phonological processing abilities and word-level reading as children develop from beginning to skilled readers: A 5-year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 33, 468479.
Woodcock R. W.1991. Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery, Revised. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.
Yopp H. K.1995. A test for assessing phonemic awareness in young children. The Reading Teacher, 49, 2029.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

The role of language of instruction and vocabulary in the English phonological awareness of Spanish–English bilingual children



Full text views

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

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.