I ‑ Introduction


For over 80 years Puerto Rican speakers of Spanish have experienced constant contact with the English language. This contact has influenced the Spanish of Puerto Ricans. Many words and struc­tures have become part of, the oral Puerto Rican Spanish, Perez‑Salas, (1974). The influence of English increases for speakers who have moved to the continental United States.


This study will investigate the effects on Spanish of the interference of English on the Spanish reading ability of Puerto Ricans in Boston.


There are many factors that can cause retardation in the acquisition of reading among bilingual children; the socio‑economic status, Holland, (1962), general intelligence, Slobin, (1973), level of bilingualism, Cummins, (1979), influence of the English language interference in Spanish, Perez‑Salas, (1974). For the purpose of this investigation, however, the concentration will be on the English language interference in the Spanish reading comprehension.


History of Education in Puerto Rico


On July 25, 1898, the American forces occupied Guanica and three days 'Later Ponce. On October 18, 1898, the last of the last of the Spanish troops to sail embarked for Spain. The forces of the U. S. A. occupied San Juan and raised the American flag on the Fortaleza, proclaiming sovereignty and the end of Spanish rule in Puerto Rico.


The first official utterance after the American occupation regarding public education was that of General Guy V. Henry. Addressing the council of secretaries, which was still in existence, he said that the system of school education should be looked into and that it was his desire to ascertain how many teachers the municipalities could pay, and who could teach the American English language commencing with the younger children, Osuna, (1949). The representative of the United States trans­planted the American school system to Puerto Rico, mindless of the diff­erence between conditions in Puerto Rico and those in the U. S. A.


The curriculum changed six different times as far as the lang­uage of instruction was concerned until it was finally settled for good in 1947.


  1. First change ‑ 1900. "The Brumbaugh Policy". English and Spanish as subjects in the first grade. Spanish as a medium of in­struction in grades 1‑R and English as a medium of instruction in grades 9‑12, with Spanish as a special subject.
  2. Second change ‑ 1905. Spanish as a medium of instruction in all grades.
  3. Third change ‑ 1916. Spanish as a medium of instruction in grades 1‑4, both English and Spanish in grade 5 and English as a medium of instruction in grades 6‑12.
  4. Fourth change ‑ 1934. Spanish as a medium of instruc­tion in grades 1‑8, with double time devoted to English as a special subject in grades 7 and 8.
  5. Fifth change ‑ 1937. Some subjects taught in Spanish and some in English, with Spanish taught in the elementary schools.
  6. Sixth change ‑ 1947. Spanish as a medium of instruc­tion at all levels, with English as a subject, Van Maltitz, (1975).


One of the methods used by the Department of Education to improve the preparation of teachers was to secure a number of them the opportunity of studying in the United States. During the summer of 1898, 48 Puerto Ricans were granted government transportation to the U. S. A. in order to study English and American schooling methods, Osuna, (1949). On the other hand, teachers from the mainland were brought to Puerto Rico as pioneers, but unfortunately these American teachers at the outset were mostly young men who came to Puerto Rico with the American army; none of them knew Spanish. and some of them knew little English because they were native speakers of otter languages. The language issue was well discussed among politicians and educators through the years. A study on teachers` salaries done in 1933‑34, proves that the emphasis was on teaching English. Teachers who taught Spanish in the urban and rural areas were paid lower salaries than teachers who taught the English language. (See Table I).

Table I*



This scale of salaries clearly demonstrates the push on behalf of the American government for individuals to specialize in English in­struction.


Soon after Dr. Roland Falkner arrived in Puerto Rico as the new Commissioner of Education, he made English the official language of the schoolroom; that is, the medium of instruction in all the subjects of the curriculum except Spanish. Teachers were classified on the basis of their knowledge of English. They were classified into Spanish graded teachers and English graded teachers. This was the beginning of the in­troduction of English as the sole medium of instruction in the classroom. . The following table (Table II) shows the progress that was made in the use of English as the medium of instruction in the graded schools from 1905 to 1912, when the bilingual system had been fully developed in the graded school.


Table II



The government did not study the effects of the change of language in education in Puerto Rico. Finally in 1915, Dr. Paul G. Miller, Osuna, (1949), analyzed the most common mistakes in English found in all the papers examined. They fell under the nine headings as follows:


1. Misuse of nouns and adjectives

2. Irregular plurals

3. Division of words into syllables

4. Inflection of the adjective in numbers

5. Comparison of adjectives

6. Use of pronouns

7. Use of the auxiliary verbal forms

8. Use of the verb, such as "he would spend"

9. Tense sequence, such as "if I should be rich, I am always thinking of money"


Then the question of how well the Puerto Rican children can read in English was studied. The conclusion appears to the Commission to be clear that Puerto Rican children develop in school such a very limited ability to get meaning from the printed English page that the probability of long retention of the skill after leaving school was extremely doubtful. In the fifth grade, Puerto Rican children read as well as American children do in the third grade; the sixth grade corr­esponds approximately to the fourth in continental U. S. A.; the seventh and eighth grades show but a slightly more skill. In fact, beginning with grade seven, the lag of reading ability as shown by the test for reading difficult paragraphs amounts to nearly three years.


Recently the University of Puerto Rico conducted a study to test language preference frequency with mixed English and Spanish words usage among high school students. It was found that 581 of the students demonstrated influence by the English language, and 309; were influenced by the Spanish language. The objective pursued in this study was: To determine the areas in which English is used most frequently in Spanish newspapers in Puerto Rico and the other to test experimentally the usage frequency of the most commonly used English words that appear in the Spanish newspaper. The English words found were classified according to the section of the newspaper in which they appeared and their fre­quency of occurrence.


Usage Frequency Percentages







U. P. R. H. S.





Altamesa Jr. H. S.






The people of Puerto Rico are exposed to English when they come in contact with sports, commercial ads, entertainment, industry and commerce, social events and fashion due to the influence of the English language in the newspapers.


Context of the Problem


This inconsistent language use in education makes the problems more accurate among Puerto Ricans in the continental U. S. A. In a study about Puerto Rican students between the ages of 7 and 18 in Boston, ABCD, (1974), it was found that 447 were enrolled in grades lower than would be dictated by their chronological ages. The problem was partic­ularly acute among children 14‑18 years of age. The 74% were behind their expected grade level and therefore reading below expectation for their chronological age in English and also in Spanish.


This same study showed that 30.17 of the population studied answered positively when asked about their interest in their ability to read and write in Spanish, and 8.5% answered "maybe" they were inter­ested. The proportion of 38.6% evidencing some interest in improving their Spanish was thus considerably higher than the proportion which stated they had limited or no ability to read Spanish (21.1%), indi­cating that even among those respondents literate in their native lang­uage, a need for improving language skills is felt.


It was also found that the respondents generally reacted with a high degree of interest when asked whether they wanted to improve their English. Freytes, (1977), stated that a child who has difficulty in understanding spoken as well as written materials in an all‑English curriculum can develop deficits in learning in all areas. In order to learn effectively, children should be able to recognize, associate and retrieve verbal symbols.


Statement of the Problem


There has been a consistent interference in the English in the Spanish of Puerto Rico causing interference in grammar and vocab­ulary. This interference increases in the Spanish speakers in the United States. This influence causes the oral language to be differ­ent from the standard Spanish. In addition, when Puerto Rican children move to the continental United States, their Spanish language is neg­lected. Many difficulties in the reading process among these students could be attributed to the amount of English influence in their Spanish.


The lack of reinforcement and lower status of the Spanish only helps to increase interference. The purpose of this study is to in­vestigate the interference of the English language on Spanish grammar and its effects on reading comprehension of standard Spanish texts in high school students between the ages of 1.5 and 18.


The following questions will underlie the research project:

1.      Would there be a relation between the students’ knowl­edge of grammatical structure and reading comprehension when language interference is present?

2.      Would there be any difference in reading comprehension in Spanish when language interference is present between high school Puerto Rican students.

3.      Would the use of grammatically different structures from oral to written Spanish significantly affect the reading comprehension in Standard Spanish?


Definition of Terms


1. Puerto Rican

A person who is a native of Puerto Rico and whose native language is Spanish.

2. Interference

For the purpose of this study, the negative effect of one speech habit on the learning of another. The transfer of the features of sound, structure or vocabulary of the second language to the language of the speaker.

3. Comprehension

A cognitive and effective process including the perceptual areas of thinking, critical analysis, evaluation, and appreciation.

4. Reading

For the purpose of this study, the translation

from writing to a form of language from which

the reader already is able to derive meaning.

5. Bilingual

For the purpose of this study, it deals with the Spanish‑speaking (Puerto Rican) high school students who have been here more than three years and those who have been here less than one year.

6. Word Order

For the purpose of this study, is the way in which the words and phrases of a sentence are arranged to show how they relate to each other.

7. Additional Part of the Speech

For the purpose of this study, is the addition of a word or a phrase to the standard Spanish structure.



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