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Auteur: Giuseppina VITALE

Co-Auteur(s): Elisa Pellegrino

The impact of bilingualism and biliteracy on the development of literacy-related skills in a second language. The case of Generation 1.5.

Abstract/Résumé: Several studies in psycholinguistics have demonstrated that the intellectual development of bilingual students can be assisted by their literacy skills in ways not readily available in monolingual classroom (Dworin: 2003). Literacy abilities in L1 can also improve the development of literacy-related skills in a second language (Chamot: 1994; Collier: 1987; Cummins: 2008). According to the theory of linguistic interdependence (Cummins: 1980), indeed, there is a cognitive/academic proficiency common to all languages that allows for the transfer of literacy-related skills across languages. Thus, the development of literacy in an L2 may be affected by literacy capabilities in the L1. On the basis of these considerations, the present study was designed to investigate the positive role of literacy skills developed in the first language on the literacy development in L2 Italian. Since Reading ability and Writing ability have found to transfer according to different cognitive patterns (Carson et al.: 1990), we focused our attention on the development of reading comprehension in immigrant adolescent learners of L2 Italian. We selected forty-four bilinguals with prior educational experience in their home language and high level of mother tongue’s vitality in their linguistic repertoire (Generation 1.5, Rumbaut: 1997) because, as asserted by Cummins, transfer capability can emerge only after individuals have attained a Threshold level of L2 proficiency to permit cognitively demanding language use (Cummins: 1981). Forty native speakers were recruited in the study as a control group. All the participants ranged in age from 11 to 15. To the purpose of the study, we administered to bilingual and monolingual students a sociolinguistic questionnaire and a reading test on Italian, Science and Geography. The sociolinguistic questionnaire was intended to elicit personal data and the level of literacy and oracy skills of the non-native speakers in their L1. The reading test, instead, was aimed to assess the cognitive-linguistic abilities developed in L1 and L2 Italian by the two groups of participants. The positive results obtained by the foreign students indicate that the condition of bilingualism and biliteracy really enables them to be successful at school and to amplify their resources for thinking and learning (Moll & Dworin: 1996). Our data give also considerable support for the view that a language competence threshold is a prerequisite for the transfer of reading skills from L1 to L2 (Alderson: 1984).