to assertions by Walley (Bruck and Genesee 1995) that bilinguals
have heightened sensitivity to individual phonemes and
are therefore better able to analyze language, our results do not indicate
a significant overall difference between monolingual and bilingual
performance on the phoneme
tests. The data does not support the assertion that bilinguals are more advantaged
than monolinguals in phoneme awareness. The data also does not support Bruck and
Genesee's (1995) finding that monolinguals had an advantage. In
short, in this study, monolinguals and bilinguals seem equivalent.
Durgunoglu et al. (1993) found general transfer of phoneme awareness
in one direction, from Spanish to English. We also found a general phoneme awareness transfer between
languages; however, according to our data, transfer is in both directions from Spanish to
English and vice versa. The transfer was significant amongst the bilinguals.
Transfer also tended to be evident for the monolingual, English-only and Spanish-only
groups. Even though these children knew only one language, they were aware of the phonemes
in words from another language, implying that one need not know meaning to support sound
structure. Thus, level of performance in one language was predictive
of performance in the other. Upon closer inspection of the data, some
subjects who a) were monolingual
and thus had little or no exposure to the second language tested and
b) had high phonological awareness in their native language, scored highly
on phoneme awareness tasks
in the other language. This suggests a language independent effect of
the linguistic units involved in phoneme awareness: individuals scoring
high in the phoneme awareness tests of
one language did not necessarily need to have any experience with the
other language to score high in that second language.
Bruck and Genesee (1995) contended that reading instruction in a language
does affect the phoneme awareness of that language, thus facilitating
associations within the language. The data in this study shows
language of instruction and performance on corresponding language versions
of the tests are related.
Children taught in Spanish performed better on Spanish versions of the
test; children taught in English performed better on English versions.
However, upon closer inspection of the data, it appears that transfer occurs regardless of
the language of instruction. This finding is consistent with a very recent study by J. F.
Carlisle, M. Beemen, C. H. Davis, and G. Sphraim (1998), who also found cross-language
transfer of metalinguistic skills between Spanish and English, independent of language of
The implications for the education of bilingual
children are varied. The data indicates that in either language
of instruction, English or Spanish, the children who perform the
best on phoneme awareness tasks in the language of instruction also
tend to perform well on phoneme awareness tasks in the other language.
Furthermore, the data in this study suggests that regardless of language
of instruction, phoneme awareness transfer occurs. Therefore,
in principal, regardless of the language of instruction, the children
who develop high phonological awareness will acquire reading with
greater facility. Phonological awareness in both languages should
In practice, however, this does not appear to be the case. The data also
shows that the children taught in Spanish-instruction classrooms do not attain
as much phoneme awareness as the monolingual and bilingual children taught
in English-instruction classrooms. The children in English-instruction
classrooms perform better on the Spanish versions of the test than the Spanish-instruction
students do on the English versions of the test.
A number of factors may contribute to this performance disparity between the
children taught in English- and Spanish-language instruction classrooms. This
un-equal transfer between languages may be caused by outdated curricula or
methodology in the Spanish-only classrooms, which are not as effective as those
in the English-only classrooms at promoting phoneme awareness. In addition,
the author noted that not all teachers in the Spanish-language instruction
classrooms were native speakers of Spanish. Two teachers, in particular,
did appear to speak heavily accented Spanish and did not appear to have firm
command of Spanish grammar or vocabulary.
Our results indicate that, because reading ability and phoneme awareness are
so heavily correlated, of central concern is the facilitation of the development
of phoneme awareness, regardless of language of instruction. Only when phoneme
awareness is nurtured will children develop reading competency in alphabetic
language (McBride-Chang 1995; Yopp 1988). It appears that the current
debate in the media about how to most effectively educate bilingual children,
whether in English or in Spanish, is a political one. In the case of reading,
it appears that children will develop phoneme awareness regardless of the language
of instruction. However, the literature states that most children, especially
those children who are likely to have reading problems, need some instruction
in order to develop phoneme awareness (Mann and Liberman 1984).