Emergent literacy in children of immigrants coming from a primarily oral literacy culture

Michal Shany, Esther Geva, Liat Melech-Feder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined emergent literacy skills of 61 kindergarten children whose families had immigrated to Israel from a primarily oral society (Ethiopia). Three complementary perspectives were examined: Developmental patterns, individual differences, and the contribution of parent literacy. The emergent literacy skills of children whose families were from Ethiopia were compared to those of 52 children coming from a primarily literate culture. The groups had acquired less complex Hebrew literacy skills in the same order, including phonological awareness, letter naming and consonant writing. However, the Ethiopian Israeli children were less proficient on various aspects of Hebrew language proficiency, and less familiar with aspects of cultural and environmental literacy. Most were also unable to speak or comprehend Amharic. In both groups, phonological awareness explained individual differences in letter naming, but vocabulary and syntactic knowledge added to the explained variance only in the Ethiopian Israeli group. Letter naming was associated with consonant writing in both groups. Hebrew oral and written language proficiency of Ethiopian Israeli mothers was positively correlated with literacy skills in their children. The results underscore the importance of distinguishing between less complex, modularized, aspects of emergent literacy and more complex literacy skills. Here the cumulative effects of poverty, oral home culture, parental inability to mediate language and literacy, and non-optimal conditions for becoming bilingual place young immigrant children at risk for academic failure early on.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-60
Number of pages37
JournalWritten Language and Literacy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Emergent literacy
  • Ethiopian Israeli children immigrants
  • Oral culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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