Academic Language Proficiency Development and Its Impact on Reading Comprehension: Within and Across Languages
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A path model of second language (L2; English) oral language and reading comprehension variables was tested on a sample of 100 Spanish-speaking English-language learners enrolled in a transitional bilingual program over a 3-year period. The data collected were a part of a longitudinal, federally funded experimental project entitled English Language and Literacy Acquisition (Project ELLA). The purpose of this study was (a) to test a path model on discrete L2 academic language proficiency variables on L2 reading comprehension, (b) to test a path model on discrete L2 academic language proficiency variables and L2 reading comprehension on L1 reading comprehension, and (c) to compare the influence of L2 language development on reading comprehension development in L2 and L1 between students enrolled in transitional bilingual education experimental (TBE-E) classrooms and those enrolled in the transitional bilingual education control or typical (TBE-T) classrooms. Results indicated the two groups did not differ significantly in their overall levels of achievement. However, striking differences were noted in how the academic language proficiency variables influenced reading comprehension outcomes. English listening comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar had significant influences on reading comprehension in the TBE-E group while English listening comprehension was the only predictor variable for the TBE-T group. Cross-linguistic transfer was established in the TBE-E group from English reading comprehension to Spanish reading comprehension whereas no transfer was detected in the TBE-T group. It is evident that high quality comprehensive ESL instruction develops academic oral language proficiency that contributes to effective reading comprehension while students continue to learn in their native language. However, in the absence of a high quality ESL instruction, students may develop academic oral language proficiency, but are ineffective in utilizing these skills for reading comprehension. It is also evident that time spent developing quality L2 reading comprehension influences L1 reading comprehension even though less time is spent in L1, suggesting cross-linguistic transfer from L2 to L1. More effective English skills coupled with effective native language skills suggests the TBE-E students have added cognitive benefits of bilingualism while the TBE-T students remain ineffective in using available language proficiency skills for effective reading comprehension.
academic language proficiency
oral language proficiency
second language learning
Spies, Tracy (2011). Academic Language Proficiency Development and Its Impact on Reading Comprehension: Within and Across Languages. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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