Double reading

Teaching children to read in English and in their native language is more effective than teaching in English only or in teaching first in the native language and then in English. That’s the conclusion of researcher Robert Slavin, who analyzed previous studies. (The analysis, which is a pdf file, is here.) Education Week reports:

Bilingual education has a particularly positive effect, say Mr. Slavin and Alan Cheung, a research scientist at the Baltimore-based Success for All Foundation, when students are taught to read both in their native languages and in English at the same period in their lives, though at different times in a single day. Their study calls that approach a “paired-bilingual program.” It differs from many bilingual education programs that postpone teaching children to read in English until they’ve learned to read in their native languages.

I wonder if the effect comes from doubling reading instruction.

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  1. Not a bad on-the-fly analysis — if you get two reading lessons a day in ANY language won’t you’re “skills” become better?

  2. I’ve also seen studies that seem to indicate that a baby who learns two languages can have more skill in both of them than one that is exposed to only one language. This requires that the two languages be presented in such a manner as to be quite clearly distinct – e.g., Mommy and Daddy speak only English, the nanny speaks only Spanish.

    So, no surprise at all here. Twice as much reading instruction, plus bi-lingualism with the two languages clearly separate and classes where you have to use English), really should work.

    I wonder if it makes a difference whether the native language uses the Roman alphabet (Spanish) or a different writing system (Chinese, Russian)?

  3. Bob Diethrich says:

    Robert Slavin ugh!

    Did a paper in graduate school on ability grouping for gifted and high achieveing students (see my post below for my story) and Slavin was one of the loudest voices in the “it’s not fair……it’s discrimination….there aren’t enough Black kids in the higher level classes” school of thought.

    Slavin was a great believer in cooperative learning and using the gifted students as unpaid de-facto instructors to teach the slower kids. He claimed that the bright kids would get a “Robin Hood effect” from helping the less fortunate and making them both feel good about themselves.


  4. Let’s eliminate P.E. and have two reading classes in every school.

  5. More to support what markm says about multiple languages:

    When I worked in Germany a few years ago, one of my fellow supervisors was a Dutch fellow. Besides my admiration of his language skills (proficiency in 3 languages is required in the Netherlands for a high school diploma, and 4 languages for a university degree) was his proficiency. In our daily interactions (Americans, Brits, Germans, Dutch, and the occasional French or Italian visitor), we tended to use whichever language was convenient, usually either English or German. The plant operators had studied English in school, but didn’t speak it particularly well; they typically used a local dialect, Platt Deutsch, which was a bit like German diluted with both English and Danish.

    Well, it was not unusual for my colleague to start out a sentence in one language, say German, switch to Dutch mid-sentence, and then end up in English. We all got so used to it that we did it ourselves (but you can’t really speak Dutch correctly unless you grow up speaking it – like a cross between coughing, spitting, and clearing your throat all at once, and it makes your throat hurt after a few minutes).

    One day, I asked him about learning multiple languages growing up. He told me about his then-6 year old daughter. He and his wife had recently had to begin a rigid program with her: each week the family would pick a language, and use ONLY that language with each other at home. The problem? The daughter was fluent in English, Dutch, and German from an early age, but she had to actively learn which language was which. It is a common problem, and many parents take this approach in Holland.

    I envied my friend and his family their language abilities. However, by the time my 3-year assignment was over, and in supervising a group of workers where I had to use German to communicate because they didn’t have the English proficiency, I had become not only fairly fluent, but I actually had trouble returning to thinking in English when I got home. Also, we got over this typical American hangup, where cultural paranoia makes you think everyone speaking a foreign language is talking about you behind their back. And poor language skills didn’t stop us from communicating: if we didn’t know or remember a word in German, we just stuck it in in English and kept going. Our conversations were hilarious to an outsider, but they worked and got the job done.

    The biggest advantage for me was total immersion. Outside of work, most of the people I encountered did not speak English, so I had to work to use my limited German. I also took adult continuing ed classes at night, and our mixture of cultures and nationalities only had German in common (lots of folks from eastern German and Poland whose second language was Russian). There are still some things I learned in German that I don’t know how to translate into English (examples: ‘dubel’ – one of those little plastic thingies that you stick in a wall and put a screw into so it will grip, but NOT a molly bolt; also ‘begeistered’ – nearest I can translate, it means ‘discomboobulated’)

    After a year of intensive study, I was really proud that I could carry on a conversation in German with my neighbor’s children.

  6. No… please don’t take away PE. I need them to work off enough energy that they CAN sit down and read.

  7. I learned more about English grammar from Spanish and German classes in 7th and 10th grades than I did in any of my English classes.

  8. I’m with Bart. I didn’t know the term “conjugate” before Spanish class in 7th Grade. I could do it, but had no conscious knowledge of what it was I was doing when doing it in English. Learning a second language is important for that kind of reason alone.

    Without such knowledge, how else can we be learning anything useful?

  9. I’m sooo happy I grew up bilingual. It made learning other languages so much easier, and I’m eternally grateful that I was able to communicate with my grandparents when they were alive.

    Claire, that shift between languages you experienced in Germany is called interlanguage, and it’s something ESL teachers are trained to look for as a sign of progress. Kids learning English will often substitute words from their home language into an English sentence, such as, “I have an el gato in my house.” The speaker has already internalized syntactic rules and is now ready for more explicit vocabulary instruction.

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