The Effect of Knowledge about Language on Foreign Language Skills and Grammar

David Lasagabaster

University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Cumminsīs (1978) Developmental Interdependence hypothesis states that a learnerīs competence in a second language is partly dependent on the level of competence already achieved in the first language. The more developed the mother tongue is, the easier the achievement of bilingualism will be. Likewise, this authorīs Common Underlying Proficiency model of bilingualism (Cummins, 1980) suggests that a bilingual or multilingual personīs thoughts that accompany reading, writing, talking and listening stem from a common underlying proficiency or central operating system. Therefore it can be concluded that there is one integrated source of thought, irrespective of the language in which the bilingual/multilingual person is functioning. However, it has been observed (Cummins, 1999) that it takes considerably longer to attain a higher level of competence in academic language tasks (e.g. reading and writing) than in everyday conversational situations (e.g. speaking and listening).

With these theories in mind, this paper examines the effect of knowledge about language (about the L1= Basque or Spanish) on the learning of foreign language (English) skills and grammar. The data was collected through a questionnaire, a metalinguistic awareness test (Pinto & Titone, 1995), Ravenīs Progressive Matrices Test and English tests completed by 252 grade 5 and grade 8 students of English as a foreign language. It was hypothesized that: (i) studentīs knowledge about language would have a significant effect on the writing, reading and grammar English tests, and (ii) the effect of this knowledge will lessen as regards the listening and speaking tests. The results bore out the first hypothesis but were not as clear-cut as expected with regard to the second hypothesis.