Cognitive differences between Chinese-English bilingual and English monolingual children in Canadian classrooms: A closer examination of prosody, morphology, and phonemic awareness.

Cognitive differences between Chinese-English bilingual and English monolingual children in Canadian classrooms: A closer examination of prosody, morphology, and phonemic awareness.

First Author: Jessica S. Chan -- Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of South Carolina
Additional authors/chairs: 
Lesly Wade-Woolley; John R. Kirby
Keywords: Prosody, Word reading, Phonological awareness, Morphological Awareness, Bilingualism
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: We examined differences on metalinguistic skills for English monolingual (n=115) and Chinese-English bilingual students (n=107) in Canada. Chinese-English bilingual students use a tone-based language at least part of the time, compared to peers who primarily speak English, a stress-based language. We also examined similarities and differences on predictors of word reading.

Method: 222 readers (Mage = 10.07 years) across Grades 3 to 6 (109 males; 113 females) completed measures of vocabulary, nonverbal ability, RAN, orthographic processing (OP), morphological awareness (MA), phonemic awareness (PA), and prosodic awareness.

Results: After controlling for nonverbal ability, we found that English monolingual students obtained higher scores than Chinese-English bilingual students on word reading, PA, MA, and receptive vocabulary. Prosodic awareness was a significant correlate of word reading in Chinese-English bilinguals, r = .22, and English monolinguals, r = .32. For Chinese-English bilinguals, stronger correlations were found between word reading and phonemic awareness, r = .71, compared to English monolinguals, r = .55. MA and word reading were correlated above r = .70 for both groups. Regression analyses revealed that the same predictors explained word reading in the final model for both groups, with the exception of MA emerging as a unique predictor of word reading for English monolinguals. Prosodic awareness was a significant predictor of word reading at entry along with PA and RAN in both groups; however, the effect of prosodic awareness did not remain after accounting for OP and MA.

Conclusion: Our findings illustrate significant group differences on word reading, and several metalinguistic skills that support word-level processes. We highlight the different contributions of cognitive predictors to word reading for Chinese-English bilingual students compared to English monolingual peers.