russians immigrants meet.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Russian speakers find it easier to learn Hebrew and English than non-Russian speakers because their native tongue has complexities that make comprehending the other languages more logical and predictable. This was discovered by University of Haifa researcher Dr. Mila Schwartz, who studied 129 first graders.
The children were divided into three groups: Russian speakers as a native language who learned the basics of reading Russian before they were exposed to written Hebrew; Russian speakers as a native language who did not learn written Russian; and Hebrew speakers alone. The children were put through tests that assessed their language abilities at the beginning of first grade and at the end of the school year.
Children who spoke Russian as a mother tongue were found to be significantly better in identifying Hebrew words according to the sound of their initial syllable, and they were also much better in tests of their ability to read fluently and exactly. Schwartz, who worked under the supervision of Prof. Mark Leikin and Prof. David Sher, did not find any difference in Hebrew language test results between mother-tongue Russian speakers and native Hebrew speakers. This, she said, supports the claim that bilingual learning by itself does not promote the development of reading skills and that there is a need for knowing how to read in another language.
In addition, Schwartz also tested 107 fifth graders divided among the same three groups to examine Russian speakers' ability to learn English. Here, too, native Russian speakers found it much easier to learn English than native Hebrew speakers. Schwartz said that children who heard Russian at home but didn't use it often also had an advantage in learning English. Russian, she concluded, is a "unique" language in the skills it bestows in understanding structure and the connection between letters and sounds, Schwartz said.