12. Literacy development in Canada: A bilingual focus

literacy, reading & writing, children, education, language immersion

Deanna Friesen, University of Western Ontario
Veronica Whitford, University of New Brunswick

Canada is a bilingual nation with two official languages: English and French. Although English-French bilingualism rates vary by province, nearly 20% of the nation’s population can functionally communicate in both languages (Statistics Canada, 2017). However, Canada’s linguistic diversity extends beyond its two official languages, with another 20% of its population speaking a non-English or non-French home language (Statistics Canada, 2017). Canada’s broad linguistic diversity offers a variety of contexts for language acquisition, including first-language, second-language, or a combination of both. These contexts can be geographical (including bilingual and multilingual communities); familial (including relatives who speak different and/or multiple languages at home); and educational (including immersion programs that offer additive dual-language learning environments). These contexts likely yield a variety of learning outcomes for first-languages, second-languages, and even additional languages.

In this symposium, we explore how Canada’s different language-learning contexts influence a key area of language acquisition: reading. Although an extensive body of research has investigated reading development in monolingual populations, relatively less is known about reading development in other linguistic populations, including bilinguals (reviewed in Jared, 2015). This imbalance in the empirical literature is problematic, as bilinguals have both qualitatively and quantitatively different language experiences from their monolingual peers. Thus, the findings from studies involving monolingual populations may not generalize to bilingual populations. To help address this issue, this symposium will shed light on how bilinguals’ different language experiences, driven by different language-learning contexts, shape their reading development and performance.

First, Friesen, Schmidt, Atwal, and Celebre will present a project that investigates differences in reading strategy use in English Languages Learners (ELLs) relative to their monolingual peers, and how these strategies predict reading comprehension ability. Second, Whitford and Joanisse will present a project that investigates how eye movement measures of reading performance differ across children enrolled in English-only and French immersion programs, despite being matched on standardized measures of reading performance. Third, Sorenson Duncan, Sutton, Kay-Raining Bird, Genesee, Chen, Oracheski, and Pagan will present a project that investigates English reading and writing performance among minority language-speaking children enrolled in French immersion programs and the role of individual difference variables.

Collectively, the talks in this symposium will clarify literacy development in diverse groups of bilingual children from a variety of linguistic and educational contexts. Although the symposium focuses on literacy development within Canada, the research presented has important implications for literacy development in other nations across the world.

  1. Predicting Reading Comprehension Performance with Strategy Use:  Comparing Bilingual Children to their Monolingual Peers and to Bilingual Adults, Deanna Friesen, Katherine Schmidt, Taninder Atwal, Angela Celebre
  2. Reading Performance in Canadian Children Enrolled in English-Only versus  French Immersion Schools: An Eye-Tracking Investigation, Veronica Whitford and Marc Joanisse
  3. The English Literacy Skills of Children from Minority-Language Homes Who Are Enrolled in Early French Immersion Programs, Tamara Sorenson Duncan, Ann Sutton, Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, Fred Genesee, Becky Chen, Joan Oracheski, Stephanie Pagan
  4. An Analysis of Reading Strategy Patterns in Bilingual Think-Aloud Data, Bailey Frid and Deanna C. Friesen