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Title:Factors that affect biliteracy development and maintenance of Swahili in bilingual (Swahili-English) speaking children
Author(s):Yambi, Josephine
Director of Research:Garcia, Georgia E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Garcia, Georgia E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):McClure, Erica F.; Bauer, Eurydice B.; DeNicolo, Christina P.
Department / Program:Curriculum and Instruction
Discipline:Elementary Education
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):bilingual children
bilingual and biliteracy development
language loss
Abstract:This qualitative study investigates the bilingual and biliteracy (Swahili-English) development of two elementary and three middle school Kenyan children across home and school contexts in the United States. Guided by sociocognitive and sociocultural theories of language and literacy, the study explores the factors at home and school that supported the Swahili speaking children’s bilingual and biliteracy development and how well the children comprehended and wrote narrative and expository texts in English and Swahili. The primary participants included the five children, all of whom received some instruction in all English classrooms, with two of them also receiving limited Swahili instruction, and three of them receiving part-time English-as-second-language (ESL) instruction. The data collected in the homes included observational field notes on language use, Swahili journals that students wrote in weekly, performance-based reading tasks in English and Swahili, and interview data from the parents and children on language use, and the children’s literacy histories, literacy identities, language preferences and attitudes. The data collected at school included observational field notes on the language and literacy instruction that the children received, English writing samples, school assessment data, and interviews with the teachers and multilingual, multicultural district coordinator. Data were analyzed using the constant comparative method (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The findings indicated that the extent of Swahili used in the children’s homes differed considerably even though all of the families strongly maintained other aspects of their Kenyan cultural identities. Although the parents said that they wanted their children to become bilingual and biliterate in English and Swahili, they primarily supported English literacy because their children’s homework was in English, and English was the school language. Only one parent consistently supported her child’s Swahili literacy development. Data from the classroom observations showed that the literacy instruction in ESL and mainstream classrooms effectively supported the children’s English literacy development. When three of the Kenyan parents volunteered to teach three days a week 45-minutes Swahili class, then the two younger students participated, but the school instruction they received was not sufficient to help them read and write grade level Swahili. The data on student performance illustrated differences in the children’s strengths and weaknesses in both English and Swahili literacy. Prior entering school in the United States, all of the children had received some literacy instruction in Swahili and English in Kenyan schools. Although the two elementary students’ age of arrival to the Unites States fell within the category of 5-7 year olds, when immigrant children often take longer to attain academic English than children who arrive between ages 8-11, one of the children performed well and exited ESL within three years. Also, one of the older students, all of whom arrived in the Unites States when they were 8-12 years old, demonstrated much higher literacy performance in English than the other students. The students’ varied performance in English indicated that other factors besides age of arrival in relation to English academic achievement are important to consider. The findings revealed that English was the stronger language for four of the five children, and that the child who was the strongest English reader and writer also was becoming a balanced biliterate in English and Swahili. Four of the five children were either losing or not increasing their oral and literate Swahili proficiency because the home and school contexts contributed to subtractive bilingualism and biliteracy. A major implication of the study is that immigrant parents need to be aware of the adverse effects of only emphasizing English literacy on their children’s bilingual and biliterate development and identities. The language loss findings illustrate the strong hegemonic influence of English in both the United States and in Kenya.
Issue Date:2010-05-19
Rights Information:© 2010 Josephine Yambi
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-05-19
Date Deposited:May 2010

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