chapter  14
17 Pages

Emergent Literacy in Immigrant Children: Home and School Environment Interface

These comments shared by a preschool teacher during an interview with the first author reflect the ongoing challenges many teachers and educators face in their classrooms when their multicultural student population reflects the changing demographics of the general population; to meet these students’ educational needs, they feel they need to be prepared to teach them English while honoring and teaching them about their home culture. Although we focus our discussion on immigrant groups in the US, many of the challenges discussed in this chapter are faced by other immigrant communities around the world, wherever families from foreign places decide to make their home in a new community (Takanishi, this volume). In what Halcón (2001) and others call “mainstream ideology,” immigrants to the US are judged successful if their beliefs and practices embrace the ideals of the dominant American society, including understanding and becoming fluent speakers of English. Numerous studies have documented that for immigrant families, gaining English proficiency is one of their main goals (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001); however, because of the many other transitions they are undergoing (e.g., relocating to a new place, searching for a job) many of them have difficulty doing so (Tse, 2001). Despite these challenges, immigrant parents are committed to having their children learn English, because they know this is one of the keys to success and to pursuing the American dream (Santa Ana, 2004; Tse, 2001). Research on young English-language learners has typically focused on how children develop language and literacy skills and transfer them from one language to the other within the classroom context. We acknowledge that this is a very important context and that a smooth transition from their home language to English is critical for eventual success in US society. Yet we also emphasize that the other contexts and “social configurations” (Moll, 2003), such as home and community, in which the child is developing and acquiring multiple competencies and literacies are equally important and deserve attention. Our work with immigrant families has focused on home and community contexts, providing us with important tools and resources that we share in this chapter.

In this chapter we review and describe the current state of research with regard to the language and literacy development of young immigrant English-language learners (pre-K-grade 3), in particular those whose first language is Spanish as much of the past literature has focused on this population. First, we describe who these immigrant children are and how they may benefit from maintaining their bilingualism. Second, we review the existing research on acquisition of specific language and literacy competencies; and then we review some of the recent literature on home literacy practices with immigrant families (Schecter & Bayley, 2002; Zentella, 2005). We then draw specific examples from the work we both have been conducting in recent years with Latino immigrant families in the US that shed light on the significance of home literacy practices. Finally, we discuss the impact of family literacy practices on immigrant children’s language and literacy development in the dominant language, English, and their home language. We will also consider how our findings may generalize to other immigrant populations.