Acquiring Literacy in English: Crosslinguistic, Intralinguistic, and Developmental Factors


Acquiring Literacy in English (ALE) was a 5-year program of research in which the Center for Applied Linguistics and its collaborators, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Miami, and the University of Houston, studied the factors that predict success as Spanish-speaking children learn to read and write in English. While literacy in monolingual English-speaking children has been intensively studied, much less is known about how the process of acquiring literacy differs for monolingual and bilingual children. For example, does literacy in one language facilitate or hinder the acquisition of literacy in a second language? If literacy skills acquired in one language can be transferred to the development of literacy in another language, may all such skills be transferred? What are the conditions that favor transfer?

ALE was one component of a larger research initiative, Development of Literacy in Spanish Speakers (DeLSS) that was jointly organized and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Institute of Education Sciences of the Department of Education. The grant period ran from 2000 to 2005.


Study Components and Subjects

ALE was composed of three subprojects and a research and assessment core. Taken together, these components describe English literacy development for Spanish speakers in a variety of social and educational contexts. Groups of children studied during the course of the research ranged from pre-kindergarten age to fifth graders. They were attending schools in widely scattered locations, including Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, El Paso, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.


Factors Under Investigation

Investigators studied environmental factors that might affect the ease or difficulty of learning to read, with special focus on the instructional environment. Some of the children in the study were Spanish speakers who were taught to read first in Spanish and later transitioned to reading in English. Others were Spanish speakers for whom the learning of reading skills began with instruction in English reading. For comparison, the investigators also studied monolingual English speakers learning to read in English and monolingual Spanish speakers learning to read in Spanish.

The home environment may also affect a child's acquisition of English literacy. Investigators therefore examined factors such as patterns of use of English and Spanish in the home and parents' attitudes toward schooling and the development of literacy skills.

Investigators took particular interest in learning how skills that are acquired earlier in the process of learning to read may undergird the development of more demanding and sophisticated skills. Another important focus was how skills that are acquired when learning to read in Spanish can transfer to the development of reading skills in English.


Acquiring Literacy in English Subprojects

Please follow the links below for information about the three individual subprojects and the Research and Assessment Core of Acquiring Literacy in English. 

Subproject 1:
Early Childhood Study of Language and Literacy Development of Spanish-Speaking Children

Subproject 2:
Transfer of Reading Skills in Bilingual Children

Subproject 3:
Spelling as an Indicator of English Literacy Development

Research and Assessment Core

Publications resulting from the studies

Assessment instruments developed for the studies

Acquiring Literacy in English was supported by Grant No. 5-P01-HD39530 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and from the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. However, the content of this Web site does not necessarily represent the positions or policies of these agencies, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.



Visit the VIAS website to learn more about this complementary strand of research.


Research-Developed Instruments (RDIs) were developed as part of both the VIAS and Acquiring Literacy in English (ALE) projects. These RDIs can be made available for use by qualified researchers. Information about the RDIs and an application form to request use of the RDIs is available on each website.

Learn about ALE RDIs

Learn about VIAS RDIs


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