Learning to write in bilingual contexts: transferring skills from the mother tongue to the official language of the country


 Presenter (s) Leslie Rosales de Véliz, J&A; Fernando Rubio, J&A

Educational goals for developing countries include improving literacy in the early grades. Most of these efforts have focused on reading. Writing has received much less attention than reading in international development efforts. However, writing is a basic skill that allows citizens to function in society in many different settings that require written formats. In bilingual settings, writing in the lingua franca of the country also represent access to information and knowledge. In Guatemala, twenty-five different languages are spoken. However, most printed materials, including legal, administrative, and educational are in Spanish, the lingua franca. This entails a necessity to develop written skills in students in the mother tongue and Spanish in the early grades. In addition, in Guatemala, there is a large population of out-of-school youth (Rosales, Montenegro, & Joj, 2015). Recent policies aim to provide out-of-school youth with functional skills that allow them to join the workforce successfully.

USAID Lifelong Learning project has its focus on the Western Highlands of the country, specifically in the K’iche’ and Mam (both Mayan languages) regions. Moreover, the current government MoE administration of Guatemala has prioritized writing competency in its educational plans (Alvarado, 2019). In this context, the project has developed the Writing Assessment in Bilingual Settings, PECBI, to inform policy about the development of writing in bilingual contexts.

Results show that students write legibly in Spanish by the end of second grade. In other words, most students master the mechanics of writing by the time they end second grade. Results also show that students grow in their ability to transcribe text from second to third grade. However, evidence from the study suggest that students do not reach the expected ability to produce a text (narration) by the end of third grade. In addition, students do not show any progress from third to fourth grade in this ability.
Linguistic transfer, both positive and negative is especially important for teachers to understand. Negative transfers, also known as interference, refers to mistakes made in the second language, hypothetically caused by contact with the mother tongue. When the acquisition of the second language causes an error often this error is the result of interference from the mother tongue.

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