Biliteracy Development: Metalinguistic Knowledge and Bilingual Academic Performance

Project Number
OER 35/09 XLC

Project Duration
May 2010 - April 2014


Singapore's economic transformation and unique cultural growth have been made possible by the government's commitment to its bilingual education policy. Although various studies have been conducted to examine the development of English language and mother tongues with regard to curriculum development, classroom instruction, and the social functions of these languages, mother tongue and English have been regarded as two separate educational issues. Little is known about the cross-linguistic relationship in literacy development of bilingual students in Singapore. In this study, we propose to look at Singaporean children's biliteracy development in a formal instructional context. In particular, we shall explore the relationship between metalinguistic awareness and academic language abilities of Chinese-English bilingual children as they develop language skills in Chinese and English. In the past 40 years the study of cognitive and linguistic development of bilingual children has confirmed that bilingualism has a positive effect on children's academic and cognitive development (Bialystok, 1986, 1988, 1991; Bialystok & Majumder, 1998; Bialystok, Majumder & Martin, 2003; Verhoeven, 2007; Cummins, 2001). Studies in bilingual literacy have mainly focused on the reading aspects of biliteracy development and explored the effect of metalinguistic awareness on bilingual children's reading development. While these studies have contributed to our understanding of bilingual children's cognitive development related to literacy achievement, their focus was on differences in metalinguistic knowledge between bilingual and monolingual children. In the case of bilingual children, the studies emphasized sequential bilinguals who receive formal instruction in only one of the languages in mainstream classrooms. Furthermore, many of these studies focused on languages with similar orthographies such as French-English and Spanish-English. However, researchers have paid little attention to how children become biliterate in two languages with drastically different orthographies, and how literacy instruction may facilitate the acquisition of academic language proficiency in the two languages, especially how metalinguistic ability relates to academic language proficiency. There is a pressing need to understand if (and how) the level of metalinguistic awareness affects the development of bilingual proficiency in academic domains. Informed by Cummins' (2001) common underlying proficiency theory, this study will explore bilingual academic language development in Singapore. It will focus on the effect that metalinguistic awareness has on bilingual academic language development. This study can shed light on how children's developmental capacities for proficiency in more than one language can be enhanced through formal instruction, thus making a significant contribution to the knowledge base for effective literacy instruction and facilitative academic literacy practices.

Funding Source

Related Links
NIE Research Briefs No.15-011

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