5) How can I support my Multilingual Learners’ literacy development?
As children learn oral language, they also start to develop early literacy skills and to understand the connection between spoken language and print. For children of all language backgrounds, oral language and literacy development are closely related32, however, developing two languages simultaneously can lead to some unique developmental patterns for Multilingual Learner (ML) children. For example, research shows that emergent literacy skills in the home language can help facilitate parallel skills in English.33 This is called cross-language transfer. In addition, metalinguistic awareness, including the ability to recognize that other languages exist and have different characteristics, is important for reading development and is heightened in bilingual children.34 This finding is a key reason to foster literacy in both languages and to align literacy instruction across the languages. In doing so, teachers should maintain language separation, that is, consistent periods of instruction through each language.35 Teachers who speak the home language should pay extra attention to its characteristics. For example, the Roman alphabet is made up of letters that represent sounds, while the Chinese writing system is made up of characters that represent words or parts of words. Of course, using developmentally appropriate practices for literacy teaching in the language is key. Because oral language and literacy development are so connected, literacy strategies should be integrated with oral language strategies described in Question 4.
Strategies in action
Overarching Strategy: Build foundational reading skills in each language.
5A. Conduct phonological awareness activities that explicitly teach children to hear individual segments of sounds in words, such as using manipulatives to represent sound units (relevant for letter-based writing systems only).
5B. Help children identify letters and develop awareness of letter-sound connections, that is, phonics (relevant for letter-based writing systems only).
5C. Provide instruction on book concepts and knowledge (particularly in preschool to support emergent literacy).
Overarching Strategy: Use shared reading activities to build oral language and reading comprehension skills in each language.
5D. Read text aloud with appropriate speed and expression to promote oral reading fluency.
5E. Conduct pre- and post-reading activities and discussions in each language to foster critical thinking skills and reading comprehension.
5F. Engage in interactive (dialogic) reading by asking open-ended questions, prompting children to retell narratives, and modeling and supporting language and content comprehension skills.
5G. Introduce and explain new vocabulary words before, during, or after reading.
5H. Read text in the home language first, and then follow up by reading the text in English over a period of time.
Overarching Strategy: Provide consistent opportunities and appropriate scaffolds to engage children with writing in each language.