Sneddon, R., (2000) ‘Language and literacy: Children’s experiences in multilingual environments’, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3(4), pp.265-282

  1. Article summary – what this research is about

Sneddon’s article, ‘Language and literacy: Children’s experiences in multilingual environments’ published by the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, considers literacy as a part of a child’s ability to understand and use both spoken and written language. This position is supported by Hoff (2014), who maintains that language and literacy development is fundamental for life and learning. Language is used to communicate, share and express feelings, provide and obtain information, and comprehend ideas and thoughts. Sneddon (2000) set to explore the relationship between language and literacy in a multilingual family. Accordingly, the researcher assessed 36 children in North-East London. The children were aged 3.5 years, 7 years, and 11 years from a Gujerati and Urdu-speaking Muslim community. The language and literacy experiences, relating to educational achievement and the use of local community cultural and religious centers, were explored in the families, community, and school, and the data obtained via interviews, recordings, and observations. The subsequent data revealed that children who accessed the cultural and religious centers had higher linguistic vitality levels in Gujerati, and told highly creative stories in both Gujerati and English than children who did not have that privilege (Seddon, 2002). Even so, Seddon (2002), established that the use of Gujerati at home did not contribute significantly to the children’s literacy achievements. Moreover, English language was mainly supported by books, but neither had a positive impact.

In the broader research field of language and literacy, Seddon’s (2002), study is highly relevant. First, the article delves into language maintenance and shift. Apparently, children’s language proficiency level, especially in their mother tongue, is an influence of sociolinguistic variables (Hoff, 2014). Some of the variables include, but are not limited to the extent and range at which the language is used at home and in the community. More so, the density of social networks in the child’s environment will influence their ability to maintain and change their language. As established by Seddon (2002), the respondents ‘… spoke almost entirely Gujerati (with a little Urdu) to their grandparents, both English and Gujerati to
their parents and a great deal more English to their siblings’ (pp. 271). Secondly, the article factors in literacies in homes and school. Significant language and literacy studies such as Wells (1986), and Tizard and Hughes (1984), have documented that literacy experiences at home directly influences their academic achievement in school. Indeed, Seddon (2002), was able to establish that the use of Gujerati, Urdu, and English at home and at the community centers had varying impacts on academic achievement of children at different ages – 3.5 years, 7 years, and 11 years. The third important aspect that makes the study fit in the broader language and literacy research is the fact that it addressed the impact of bilingualism in education. Significant studies in this research field have, unfortunately, produced contradictory findings. For instance, Hamers and Blanc (1989) and Baker (1996) studies concluded that bilingualism contributed to low academic performance for minority community children. On the other hand, a study by Bialystock (1991), deduced that bilingualism contributed to positive cognitive benefits. Seddon (2002), research comes in to contribute to these contradictory results. Accordingly, the author established, in light of bilingualism in education, that the use of Gujerati at home did not contribute significantly to the children’s literacy achievements.

To realize the above results, the aim of the study was ‘… to explore in greater depth, through a focused investigation in Gujerati speaking families, the home literacy experiences of children in a multilingual environment and the factors that may have an impact on these’ (226).  Salkind (2010) maintains that research aims should be clear and signal what and where the researcher aspires to be by the end of the study. Indeed, the research aim is clear considering that Seddon (2002), lucidly outlines what he hoped to do, that is, his overall intention in the project. Since it only points the research to be conducted, the research aim is broad, and thus, the development of research questions. Accordingly, Seddon (2002) centered on the following four broad questions, which guided the investigation:

(1) In a multilingual context, what kinds of support for literacy do parents provide for their children in English and in the languages of the home? (2) What impact do both these kinds of support have on children’s achievement in the classroom in English? Is there evidence of a transfer of skills from home languages to English? (3) In the context of very varied language backgrounds and levels of bilingualism, what language experiences in home and community influence children’s own use of language? Does involvement with an organisation that supports the community’s language and culture have any impact on this? (4) Does the linguistic vitality of a community have any influence on children’s literacy experiences in the home? (pp. 266).

Research questions are a fundamental aspect of any study. It allows the researcher to focus the study, determine the research methodology to be used, and guide all the stages involving inquiry, data analysis, and reporting (Salkind, 2010). Indeed, Seddon (2002), identified four research questions derived from the research problem ‘Children’s experiences in multilingual environments’. From this, the author drafted the four questions, which he used to develop appropriate research methods.

  1. Methods – what the researchers did

The process of sampling simply involves the researcher selecting his sample. While it seems straightforward, the process is quite involving as revealed in Sneddon’s (2002), study. Sneddon’s (2002), sample was selected from the general population. The research assistant collected information about the sample from the Local Education Authority, the local primary schools headteachers, community center staff, and the prior knowledge of the researcher. The author also an inclusion criteria to consider the sample for the research. According to Salkind (2010), inclusion and exclusion criteria are set traits to be used to identify who will and who will not participate in a research study. For instance, in Sneddon’s (2002) research, all participants were to be born in Britain, their families spoke Gujerati as their first language and knowledgeable of Urdu, they belonged to mainstream primary schools that have similar bilingual children intakes and policies; this was his inclusion criteria. 50 percent of the sample was selected from families living near community centers and used the facilities therein. The other half included children who lived far away from community centers and did not use any. Then, Sneddon (2002), developed a matched pair. The children were matched in light of gender, age, sibling number, family position, parents’ education levels, father’s occupation, and housing type and ownership. Moreover, the respondents were selected in light of 3 age groups – 3.5 years (just beginning nursery school), 7 years (in Year 6), and 11 years (in the final Year of primary schooling). In the end, 36 children participated in Sneddon’s (2002) study as the sample population. The researcher used a stratified sampling technique by dividing the population in terms of the factors (proximity to and use of community centers) that might influence the variables being measured.

In order to respond to the research questions, Sneddon (2002), collected quantitative data, which were quantified in various ways. The first aspect of quantification was on language use of parents and children in different social settings. A device known as Three Language Box was used to visually present Gujereti, Urnu, and English for the parents, and the children aged 7 and 11 years old. This was later interpreted in terms of percentages for analysis. Subsequently, the Index of Interaction Opportunity was derived from the percentages for both parents and children. The second aspect of quantification was literacy experiences. This was done by ranking families in terms of their Gujerati, Urnu, and English literacy. The third element of quantification was support for literacy. This provide parents the opportunity to explain about their children’s story telling, reading and hearing, and the frequency of Gujerati/Urnu occurrence. The fourth quantification element was were the scores on the standardized texts. Various tests, such as Draw a Person test and Marie Clay’s test were used to establish the children’s general intellectual maturity (Sneddon, 2002). Accordingly, questionnaires were used to obtain more quantitative data on literacy events, family involvement, books accessibility, media use, language development, attitude towards maintaining traditions, parent-school relationship, and reading training for the children. More so, the researcher encouraged open ended questions to promote the discussion of various issues raised at different stages. The subsequent qualitative data alongside the parents’ comments were used to explain and interpret other data founded. Other information was obtained from storybook reading, which were recorded by the researcher. Age 3.5 years participants used ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Carle (1992); age 7 years participants used Stone & Desai’s (1989) ‘Naughty Mouse’, whereas the age 11’s read ‘Raja’s Big Ears’ by Desai (1989). Other data was collected via school interviews. The children were asked to retell their stories and interviewed on their language use.

To involve the participants, the Sneddon (2002), conducted home interviews for parents. The parents responded to long questionnaires, providing qualitative data and their socioeconomic and educational status nedded for the matching process. Meanwhile, story books were used to assess the children’s ability to read. Sneddon (2002), involved age 3.5 years participants in reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Carle (1992); age 7 years participants read Stone & Desai’s (1989) ‘Naughty Mouse’, whereas the age 11’s read ‘Raja’s Big Ears’ by Desai (1989). After two weeks, the children retold their stories in Gujerati while the research assistant recorded the experience. The final recording was transcribed and assessed in both English and Gujerati. This allowed the researcher to establish the language the children were most fluent in and used most. Finally, the researcher conducted school interviews. Here, the children were allowed to participate in discussions about their language use. In a research involving humans, IRB clearance has to be obtained (Burns, 2000). Apparently, Sneddon’s (2002), study not only involves humans but also minors. As such, besides IRB clearance, the researcher had to obtain the parent’s consent for their children to participate in the study. Even so, Sneddon (2002), in his article does not elaborate on this crucial aspect of research project. Neither did he express how he dealt with them.

Overall, the research design was appropriate for this study. At first, Sneddon (2002) intended to conduct a longitudinal study, but considering time constraint, he opted for a cross-sectional design using the three age groups. A cross-sectional study design is used to obtain information in light of the data collected for a particular point of time (Kothari, 2005). The researcher collects data in terms of the participants’ characteristics and demographics. Accordinglt, Sneddon (2002), was interested in the participants’ gender, age, education, geographic locations, ethnicity, and other variables. This allowed the researcher to respond to the research questions in a less costly manner within a limited time period. The researcher was also able to address the research aim by capturing real time information using multiple variables.

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