Grant Given to Study Latinos’ English

Cal State Fullerton professor Maria R. Montano-Harmon has been awarded a $30,000 fellowship from the National Academy of Education at Harvard University to continue her groundbreaking research on Latino youngsters’ command of English.

Montano-Harmon, an assistant professor of secondary education, was one of 30 educators in the nation to receive a Spencer Fellowship, which is awarded annually to outstanding researchers to pursue postdoctoral studies in the field of education, university officials said.

Over the last four years, Montano-Harmon has studied compositions by more than 900 ninth-graders in 10 school districts in California, Arizona and three cities in Mexico.

She said she has found that although English is the primary language of most Latino students, their literacy is limited to a conversational dialect of English dubbed “Chicano English.” It is similar to a spoken dialect of English identified among black Americans and can hinder students’ achievements, she said.

“This is not a problem of Spanish-language interference,” Montano-Harmon said. “This is a literacy problem and must be dealt with as such.”


Such students need special teaching strategies to improve their skills in written English, strategies that differ from those used in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs, she said.

The Spencer fellowship will make it possible for her to expand her research. She will take leaves during the spring semesters of 1991 and 1992 to complete her study, which will be expanded to include students in New Mexico and Texas.

Montano-Harmon joined the Cal State Fullerton faculty in 1985 after 14 years teaching junior high and high school students. She won La Habra City School District’s outstanding teacher of the year award in 1982. As a Fulbright scholar in 1969, she studied in Argentina. She is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Besides teaching multicultural education at the Fullerton campus, she is a consultant to school districts in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.