Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 1193–1214 | Cite as

Social perspective taking: a benefit of bilingualism in academic writing

  • Lisa HsinEmail author
  • Catherine Snow


The task of writing arguments requires a linguistic and cognitive sophistication that eludes many adults, but students in the US are expected to produce texts that articulate and support a claim—simple written arguments—starting in the fourth grade. Students from language-minority homes likewise must learn to produce such writing, despite their relatively limited experience with the English language, reflected in the availability of smaller mental lexicons and more restricted syntactic constructions. Yet some features of bilingual children’s cognition, such as precocious development of theory of mind and strong metalinguistic awareness, might support the crafting of arguments in writing, where the explicit consideration of multiple points of view can serve to strengthen one’s case for a claim. In this study we examine the incidence of social perspective-taking acts in the argumentative essays of language-minority and English-only students in Grades 4–6 and find that language-minority students match or surpass the English-only students on two critical measures of perspective taking (perspective acknowledgment and perspective articulation). We also explore possible links between students’ use of perspective taking in their argumentative essays and a validated formal measure of the same skill, uncovering different relationships between them in the two language groups. Links to previously attested bilingual advantages and to the development of argumentation are discussed.


Perspective taking Sociocognitive development Adolescent literacy Bilingual advantage Language minority Persuasive writing Argumentative writing 



The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education, through Grant R305F100026 to the Strategic Educational Research Partnership Institute. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the US Department of Education. We are grateful to Julie Kim and Ankhi Thakurta for their transcription and coding efforts, to Nan Mu for help with references, to Sibyl Holland and Maria LaRusso for CCDD facilitation, and to Robert Selman and the snowcats for enlightening discussion. We also thank audiences at AERA and SREE for helpful questions and our anonymous reviewers for their edifying comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Graduate School of EducationCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational Studies in Psychology, Research Methodology, and Counseling, College of EducationThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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