Teenagers, Literacy and School: Researching in Multilingual Contexts

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The pupils, who are between 9 and 18 years of age, will write in three languages: North Sami, the national language, i. Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish, and English. By continuing to use the website you agree to the usage of cookies. There are exceptions, though, as evidenced in Supplementary Table 1. The majority of informants achieving high scores in the English Boomerang task attends the Gymnasium and comes from families with high educational backgrounds. The two informants with the lowest overall attainment scores for the Boomerang task are and see Supplementary Table 1 , both German monolinguals, who attend schools for children with learning disabilities.

They completed the task primarily in German with interspersed English function words. The informants at the lower end of the scoring spectrum attend diverse school forms. Most of the informants who do not attend the Gymnasium achieve comparatively lower scores. The educational background of informants' families seems to play a more pronounced role than household income. Age of onset seems to be irrelevant, as we find simultaneous and successive bilinguals both at the higher and lower end of the scoring spectrum. Similarly, sex does not seem to be an influencing factor.

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Although influences from the heritage languages are observable, especially with informants who acquired German after the age of three, the majority of non-target-like effects occur regardless of differences in language background. They may be explainable in terms of partly fossilized language acquisition stages.


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Non-target-like occurrences in informants' texts include code mixing, as in Example 1. It occurs exclusively from German, especially at the lower end of the scoring spectrum. Moreover, we find non-target-like subject-verb-agreement and tense- and aspect marking, again primarily at the lower end of the scoring spectrum.

This is illustrated in Example 2. Non-target-like word order, particularly in the placement of adverbs and prepositional phrases, is portrayed in Example 3. The latter phenomenon occurred regardless of the scores that informants' achieved. As most informants were not accustomed to the specialized English vocabulary the task required, all of them used coping strategies such as direct lexical transfer Example 4 and paraphrasing Example 5. We use angled brackets to indicate the non-target like specimens under discussion.

Finally, note that the task did not trigger third person singular agreement, with which the majority of informants had difficulties in the other tasks we conducted. Tables 2 , 3 below show the 10 informants with the highest and lowest scores in English, listed from highest to lowest, along with relevant background variables and the language assessment scores in German and their heritage languages.

The scores in the main panel were calculated with a mean value of and a standard deviation of As two waves of testing were conducted in the context of LiPS, two sets of scores are available. Here, we focus on the scores from the second wave. Again, there does not seem to be any effect attributable to either sex or age of onset regarding the scores in German and the heritage language. With the exception of informant , informants with high scores in English also achieve high scores in German.

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Of the 10 informants with the highest scores, five are bilinguals. Four of these belong to the Russian-German group. The remaining bilingual informant stems from the Vietnamese-German group, achieving the highest score of all bilinguals. This informant speaks primarily German at home. Her scores in German are higher than in Vietnamese. Her assessment scores for German, however, are lower than those of the monolingual German informants except informant Further background variables reveal that informant is a special case, as she attended an international school in Vietnam where English was the first language that she formally acquired.

This is one of the primary reasons for her high literacy score in English. Three of the Russian-German bilinguals achieved high scores in their heritage language Russian. Informant , a Russian-German bilingual attending the Gymnasium , shows low assessment scores in German and her heritage language, even though she achieved comparatively high literacy levels in the English Boomerang task.

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At the lower end of the scoring spectrum for English see Table 3 , we also find lower literacy scores for German. Except for informant , who shows lower scores in both background languages though better results for German, all of the informants show higher results in their heritage languages. Eight of the 10 informants are of multinational descent. The two informants with the lowest literacy scores represent the two German monolingual girls receiving specialized schooling for children with learning disabilities.

Their results for English can be interpreted as a consequence of their learning disabilities.

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  • We may suspect a correlation between literacy attainment in German and English. A Pearson correlation for our bilingual informants reveals that the raw scores for the English Boomerang task correlate at the 0. There is no significant correlation between the scores for the heritage languages and English. These results are summarized in Table 4.

    If we look only at our bilingual informants and rearrange our results according to the 10 informants with the highest literacy scores in their heritage languages, we find mixed results for their scores in English.

    Teenagers, Literacy and School

    If, however, we look at the 10 informants with the lowest assessment scores in their heritage language, this results in the picture shown in Table 5. Bilingual informants with lowest academic literacy scores in their heritage languages Second wave. Informants with comparatively lower language assessment scores in the heritage language versions of the Boomerang task reach comparatively low literacy scores in the English Boomerang task.

    The exception to this is informant , who, as has already been established, acquired English as her first formal language and achieves a relatively high score in the German version of the Boomerang task. Informant is an interesting case, because she reaches an above average literacy score in English, but comparatively lower levels of literacy in German and her heritage language.

    In this case, however, the family has a comparatively high educational background. Moreover, in the first wave of testing, she obtained a relatively high literacy score in Russian. To sum up, it does seem to be the case that higher academic literacy scores in both German and the heritage language coincide with higher academic literacy scores in English.

    Whether or not literacy resources are accessible, however, seems to be dependent on language external factors. Moreover, comparatively higher academic literacy assessment scores in German seem to coincide more frequently with high academic literacy scores in English. Higher literacy scores in the informant's heritage language coinciding with comparatively lower attainment scores in German result in a lower academic literacy score in English.

    In general the lowest assessment scores in bilingual informants' heritage languages coincide with low academic literacy outcomes for English. In this exploratory, qualitative analysis of our data set, we found no evidence for advantages of bilinguals regarding the production of written instructive texts in English, in comparison to their monolingual peers. Our results, however, show that bilingual informants with high assessment levels for academic literacy in both German and their heritage language are more likely to achieve better results in the production of academic English.

    In our view, this finding supports Cummins' Threshold Hypothesis as long as we view English literacy as a form of academic attainment. Moreover, informants with low literacy attainment levels in their heritage languages achieved comparatively lower scores for the task at hand. Our results also show that there are individual thresholds, as some informants seem to be able to access their literacy resources on lower levels than others.

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    The accessibility of these lower level resources seems to be dependent on socioeconomic background variables, as informants with low literacy scores in their background languages—though attaining high literacy scores in the English task—have a high socioeconomic and educational background. Although we did not find evidence for advantages of bilingual informants regarding their literacy levels in English, it must be noted that there may be factors overriding our results. For example, years-old students in Germany are likely to have encountered instructive text types in school and in their environment in German, but are much less likely to have encountered them in their heritage language, especially since the majority of our informants received no formal training in their home languages.

    Other overriding factors include the quality of English language education and students' motivation to learn English. Even though our study is primarily concerned with literacy attainment, it would appear justified to take a brief look at the influencing factors identified in L3 acquisition studies. In this context, for example, typological proximity has been identified as an important factor De Angelis, , pp 22— In his Typological Primacy Model , Rothman postulates that typological proximity is the strongest factor influencing syntactic transfer in L3 acquisition processes.

    Due to the close proximity of German and English, it appears possible that our informants rely more heavily on German than on their heritage languages in the production of English, even if their heritage language knowledge is comparatively high. This may even apply to informants whose heritage language is dominant, as is the case for some of the Russian-German informants. This claim seems to be supported by the fact that informants code-mix almost exclusively from German and that the majority of direct lexical transfer patterns that we can observe come from German.

    Another possible explanation for these observations is that transfer occurs from German because it is the L2, thus supporting the L2 status factor model initially put forth by Hammarberg and recently developed further by Bardel and Falk and Falk and Bardel 5. According to the L2 status factor model, the L2 blocks out influence from L1, thus acting like a veil. Subsequently, we can make a strong case for a scenario in which high literacy scores in German are more likely to coincide with high literacy scores in English, not only due to the nature of the investigated task, but also due to the typologies of the languages involved.

    It is important to note that we do not find any negative effects of high literacy scores in bilingual informants' heritage languages regarding their production of English academic texts. To the contrary, informants with high literacy assessment scores in both German and their heritage language are more likely to show higher literacy scores in English, though high assessment scores in German seems to be a precondition in this particular case.

    Moreover, informants with low literacy levels in their heritage languages have lower literacy scores in English. Informants' literacy levels in their heritage languages, therefore, contribute directly to their attainment of English literacy. As already alluded to, it is difficult to compare informants' literacy skills in their heritage language to their literacy skills in German. Still, we would like to emphasize that due to the nature of bilingualism, comparing bilingual children's results in German or their heritage languages to monolingual children's results in German is also quite problematic.

    This follows from the fact that bilinguals cannot be viewed as a combination of two monolinguals, as established by Grosjean Pursuing this line of thought further, we would also like to note that the comparison of bilingual and monolingual learners in the acquisition of English as an additional language poses similar difficulties. That is to say, advantages for bilinguals are more likely in domains where the same attainment levels have been reached for both their native languages.

    As children and adolescents who grow up in a monolingual environment are likely to have a more diverse knowledge of different registers than their bilingual peers, this may account for the high literacy scores that some of our monolingual informants achieve in English and disadvantage multilingual children in language assessment tasks for additional languages. Language and Linguistics Compass, 8 4 , Engaging in computer-mediated feedback in academic writing: English Teaching, 69 3 , A case study of a Jogi Yuhak student in an American high school.

    Canadian Modern Language Review, 69 2 , ESOL teachers as writing teachers: From the voices of pre-service teachers. Putting multiliteracies into practice: Digital storytelling for multilingual adolescents in a summer program. The use and role of pop culture in heritage language learning: A study of advanced learners of Korean.

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