Language Minority Learners' Spanish-Influenced Spelling Errors and Morphological Knowledge

Date

2014-12

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Abstract

Previous research has demonstrated that Spanish as a heritage language encourages predictable spelling errors as language-minority (LM) learners apply Spanish phoneme-grapheme correspondence rules to scaffold their emerging English spelling skills. These Spanish-influenced (SI) errors fade by around fourth grade, especially if LM learners receive English-only education. Morphological knowledge may facilitate spelling in both languages, though it remains to be seen whether LM learners are comparable to their monolingual peers in this knowledge. The present study addressed the relation of SI errors and morphological knowledge with a sample of 33 LM learners, all of whom spoke Spanish at home, and 36 monolingual English-speaking peers in fifth grade. T-tests and regression analyses examined group differences in relations among spelling, morphology, and English decoding ability. Contrary to previously-reported findings, results showed that LM learners continue to commit a significant number of SI errors at the end of fifth grade. An interaction between English decoding skill and LM status predicted the rate of such errors. As expected, monolinguals scored higher on morphological knowledge than LM learners, and morphological knowledge predicted errors related to the morphologically complex spelling task for both LM learners and monolinguals, but only when English decoding skill was not included in the regression model. These findings suggest that, even in fifth grade, LM learners may still require explicit instruction to reinforce areas in which their heritage language impacts their English spelling performance. Both LM learners and monolingual students would benefit from explicit instruction in morphological knowledge and its application to spelling.

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Keywords

Language-minority learners, Bilingualism, Spelling, Morphology, Decoding

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