From home to school: Bridging the literacy gap in L1 Wolof children learners of L2 French in Senegal

Moustapha Fall


This study examines the acquisition of literacy in a second language (L2) in the absence of literacy in the first language (L1). Wolof children in Senegal—West Africa—develop their first literacy skills in their second language (L2), French or Arabic, not in their first language (L1), Wolof. The Wolof language is primarily oral, and even though a written system has been recently developed, children still do not read and write in their L1. This situation slows down the process of learning French as children have no pre-existing literacy skills to transfer from their L1 to their L2 (Ellis, 1994). The very notion of cross-linguistic transfer from L1 to L2 has been an increasingly important research topic in the field of Second Language Acquisition over the past twenty years (Ellis 1994; Odlin 1989; Kasper 1989; Cummins 2000). Of equal importance has been the notion of interdependency between L1 and L2 and the impact(s) of L1 literacy on L2 learning; a dominant theory in the 1980s (Cummins, 1979, 1984, 2000- Interdependence Hypothesis). However, it is worth noting that the vast majority of previous studies on the notion of cross- linguistic transfer and language interdependency were mostly limited to written native languages not to unwritten native languages.This was the case until the UNESCO report of 1953 and other studies presented themselves in support of the use of the mother tongue as “the best medium for teaching a child to read (UNESCO, 1953).


cross-linguistic transfer; second language learning;literacy skills.

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Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle

EISSN: 1920-440X
ISSN: 1200-3344

University of Victoria