Current research on language transfer

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This paper reviews research on cross-linguistic transfer in order to highlight its relevance for current educational policies relating to language teaching and the development of plurilingualism. The review focuses three controversial issues: (a) bilingual education, (b) language use at home among minority group students, and (c) instructional use of students’ home language in teaching second languages. Many bilingual education and second language teaching programs have assumed that student’s two languages should be kept rigidly separate in order to minimize interference between languages. Similarly, many policy-makers have assumed that the achievement of minority group students would improve if parents were to switch to the majority language in the home, thereby removing the negative influence of the home language. These assumptions are disputed in this paper on the grounds that extensive empirical research supports the reality of positive transfer across languages. This cross-lingual transfer explains why students in bilingual programs or those who use a minority language in their homes do not suffer adverse academic effects despite less exposure to the majority language. Bilingual instructional strategies are suggested as an important pedagogical tool to promote proficiency in two languages.


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