Finding the keys to biliteracy: how young children interpret different writing systems

Kenner, Charmian; Kress, Gunther; Al-Khatib, Hayat; Kam, Roy and Kuan-Chun, Tsai. 2004. Finding the keys to biliteracy: how young children interpret different writing systems. Language and Education, 18(2), pp. 124-144. ISSN 09500782 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper discusses ways in which young bilingual children understand the principles underlying different writing systems. Six case studies were conducted, involving six-year-olds growing up in London who were learning to write in Chinese, Arabic or Spanish at the same time as English. The children's formal and informal literacy interactions were observed at home, community language school and primary school. Peer teaching sessions were also set up so that children could demonstrate their ideas about Chinese, Arabic or Spanish to primary school classmates. Findings show that these young emergent biliterates were able to grasp concepts from different systems, by producing their own interpretations of the input provided by teachers and family. A discussion follows as to whether such understandings were heightened by dealing with more than one writing system, and whether the research points to a more general propensity amongst young children to look for the principles involved in graphic representation. Finally, the paper argues that mainstream educators need to recognise the cognitive gains for minority-language children who are becoming biliterate and offer support for this important area of learning.

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Educational Studies


March 2004Published

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12 Mar 2009 15:41

Last Modified:

07 Dec 2012 12:51

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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