Becoming Literate in a Foreign Language

  • Liliana Tolchinsky
Part of the Literacy Studies book series (LITS, volume 2)


Mastering the language(s) of a literate community implies learning its written and spoken modalities and second-language learners must cope with the two modalities simultaneously. The study explores Chinese and Moroccan 5 to 8 years-old awareness to morphological processes and the relationship that they establish between the spoken and the written representation of these processes. Children were at their initial stages of learning Catalan, a language and a orthographic system that differ typologically from their own. Moreover, Chinese and Moroccan children earlier experience with spoken and written language differs to a large extent form the one under way. Our findings show that there is a subtle influence of learners’ first-languages in their mastery of critical aspects of nominal morphology of the target language. However, there are some critical matters that seem to reappear in all studied groups, irrespective of their first-languages. As for their conceptualization of the speech-writing relationship, many children were still unaware of the basic representational feature of alphabetic writing; namely, that whenever a spoken utterance gets a written representation, the changes this utterance suffers should be reflected in its written representation.

The domain of literacy has undergone a turning point over the last two decades. From being considered as a school matter, an object of instruction, literacy has become a domain of knowledge that is worth studying from a developmental point of view. The work of Iris Levin made a notable contribution in this sense. Her studies are an obligatory reference in the study of early literacy throughout the world, and they inaugurated the developmental approach to literacy in Hebrew.


Chinese Child Initial Picture Target Picture Locative Derivative Standard Modern Arabic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The study reported in the chapter was partially supported by an I+D grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education BSO2003-06020.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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