Linguistics meets educational research: Re-analysis of orthographic competence in mono- and bilingual students

Katharina Nimz
13.09.2018, Poster-Session

We know very little about the (development of) orthographic competence in monolingual versus bilingual students. On the one hand, this could be attributed to the fact that in both linguistics and L2 research and teaching, we are still dealing with a long-standing primacy of speech over writing (e.g., Cook, 2005). On the other hand, international (large-scale) assessments of students’ competencies rarely comprise the measurement of orthographic competence due to methodological challenges.

An often-cited German large-scale study, which investigated various linguistic competencies (including orthography) in monolingual and bilingual students, is the DESI study (DESI-Konsortium, 2006). Surprisingly, orthography was the only subfield in which bilingual students outperformed German monolingual students. This finding contrasts with smaller studies from linguistics which found that bilingual students do not generally outperform monolingual students, only (if even) regarding some but not all orthographic strategies (i.e., phonographic, syntactic, etc.) and only during certain stages of language development (Bredel, 2012). This controversial picture leads to the present study, which sets out to re-analyse a large corpus of texts of monolingual and bilingual students in Germany (MULTILIT corpus; Schellhardt & Schröder, 2015).

The MULTILIT corpus comprises a variety of written texts from over 160 monolingual and bilingual students from four different grades (5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th grade). It makes possible the investigation of three main research questions: 1) Do bilingual students really outperform monolingual students (as found in the DESI study)?, 2) In which areas of orthographic competence (i.e., phonographic, syllabic, syntactic, etc.) do bilingual students differ from monolingual students?, and 3) Are differences in orthographic competence tied to developmental aspects? Answers to these questions are relevant for the development of L2 theories which go beyond spoken language and are interested in how the bilingual mind might make use of specific orthographic strategies when writing in a second language.


Bredel, U. (2012). (Verdeckte) Probleme beim Orthographieerwerb des Deutschen in mehrsprachigen Klassenzimmern. In Grießhaber, W. & Kalkavan, Z. (Eds.), Orthographie- und Schriftspracherwerb bei mehrsprachigen Kindern. Freiburg: Fillibach, pp. 125–142.

Cook, V. J. (2005). Written language and foreign language teaching. In V. J. Cook & B. Bassetti (Eds.), Second Language Writing Systems (pp. 424–441). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

DESI-Konsortium (2006). Unterricht und Kompetenzerwerb in Deutsch und Englisch. Zentrale Befunde der Studie Deutsch-Englisch-Schülerleistungen-International. Frankfurt am Main: Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung.

Schellhardt, C. & Schröder, C. (2015). Manual, criteria of transcription and analysis for German, Turkish and English. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag.