The Development of Reading Related Skills in Young Second Language Learners

The Development of Reading Related Skills in Young Second Language Learners

First Author: Claudine Bowyer-Crane -- University of York
Additional authors/chairs: 
Silke Fricke; Meesha Warmington; Marta Wesierska; Selma Babayigit
Keywords: EAL, Phonological processing, Reading comprehension, Fluency, Word Learning
Abstract / Summary: 

A large body of research exists suggesting different language skills underpin the development of different reading skills with phonological processing important for word level reading and broader language skills such as vocabulary knowledge and grammar important for reading comprehension. Much of this research has been carried out with young native English speakers and there is a growing body of comparative research exploring the similarities and differences in skills underpinning reading development in languages other than English. However, less is known about the development of these phonological and non-phonological language skills in second language learners and their relative contribution to the development of reading in this cohort. Internationally, a large proportion of children are learning to read in a language other than their own. For example, in the UK, 19.4% of children are learning English as an additional language and it is vital that we understand the processes that underpin reading development in second language learners in order that we can support these children in the classroom. The papers in this symposium will explore the skills underpinning reading development from a cross-cultural perspective reporting on research with children from European and Indo-European language backgrounds. The papers will have implications for both our theoretical understanding of learning to read in a second language as well practical implications for reading instruction. The symposium will comprise four empirical research papers and a discussion which will draw together the key findings from these papers and discuss the implications of these findings for future research in the field.

Symposium Papers: 

Emergent literacy and comprehension skills: A comparison of children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) and monolingual children with language weaknesses

First Author/Chair:Claudine Bowyer-Crane -- University of York
Additional authors/chairs: 
Silke Fricke; Blanca Schaefer; Arne Lervag; Charles Hulme

Purpose: In the UK 19.4% of children are learning to read English as an Additional Language. These children show difficulties with reading comprehension despite adequate decoding skills. However, the relationship between early language skills and later reading comprehension in this cohort is not fully understood. This study explores the early predictors of word reading and reading comprehension in a group of children learning English as an Additional Language.
Methods: Children learning EAL (n=80) were compared to a group of monolingual English speaking peers with language weaknesses (n=80). All children attended UK primary schools and were assessed at school entry, aged approximately 4 years, and again after 2 years of formal schooling. Performance was compared across groups on measures of emergent literacy, oral language skills, reading and listening comprehension. Longitudinal predictors of word reading and reading comprehension were also compared.
Results: Group differences revealed the EAL group had weaker oral language skills but stronger word reading skills than the monolingual group but there was no difference in reading comprehension. Analyses using SEM revealed similar predictors of word reading and reading comprehension in both groups and no group difference in the strength of association between early oral language skills and reading comprehension.
Conclusions: Children learning English as an Additional Language are at risk of later reading comprehension difficulties which may initially be masked by adequate decoding skills. Extra support with their early language skills is important to ensure their reading comprehension skills develop in line with their word level reading skills.

Phonological processing skills in Polish and English monolingual children and Polish children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL).

First Author/Chair:Marta Wesierska -- University of York
Additional authors/chairs: 
Claudine Bowyer-Crane; Emma Hayiou-Thomas

Purpose: There is evidence to suggest that children learning more than one language show stronger phonological processing abilities than their monolingual peers. However, many studies only compare second language learners to monolingual native speakers of either the first or second language. Moreover, few studies measure speed of lexical access or phonological memory, focusing instead on phonological awareness measures.. This study adds to the growing literature in the field, comparing second language learners with monolingual peers from their first and second languages, and focusing on all three areas of reading-related phonological processing skills.
Method: Three groups of children were included in this study: monolingual Polish speakers in Poland, EAL Polish children in England and monolingual English speakers. The children in this study were aged between 4 and 7 years of age. Children were given a nonword repetition task, a rapid automatized naming task and a measure of phonological awareness as well as tests of early literacy. Bilingual children were tested in both Polish and English.
Results: Initial results suggest that children in the bilingual group show a slight advantage over the monolingual children on measures of phonological awareness and nonword repetition. Conversely, the monolingual Polish children show an advantage on the rapid automatized naming task. When assessed in English, the EAL children obtained average reading scores and their knowledge of letter sounds was also relatively strong.
Conclusion: These initial data show interesting trends in the development of phonological abilities of the three groups of speakers in the early primary school years. By adding to previous investigations in the field, this study aids in improving the understanding of the developmental differences skills underpinning reading between EAL and monolingual speakers.

Development and predictors of reading fluency in children learning English as an Additional Language and their monolingual peers

First Author/Chair:Silke Fricke -- University of Sheffield
Additional authors/chairs: 
Dea Nielsen; Joy Stackhouse

Purpose: Evidence from monolingual children has demonstrated the importance of reading fluency for children’s reading comprehension skills, however limited research has explored the development of reading fluency in young children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL). The aim of this study was to examine the development of both reading accuracy and fluency in children learning EAL as compared to monolingual English children, and to explore group differences in the predictors of these two aspects of literacy.
Method: Children from diverse linguistic backgrounds (N=51), and monolingual children from the same schools (N=53) were assessed in Year 1 (mean age 6;0 years) and Year 2 (mean age 7;0 years) on measures of language, phonological awareness, RAN, word and text reading accuracy and fluency, and reading comprehension. Language groups were compared in terms of development, performance, and predictors of reading accuracy and fluency in Year 2.
Results: Despite differences in language proficiency, EAL and monolingual children performed very similarly and showed comparable rates of development on both word and text level measures of accuracy and fluency. While the autoregressor was consistently the strongest predictor of accuracy and fluency for both groups, group differences emerged in pattern of prediction of these skills. However, the relationship between reading comprehension and word and text reading fluency was comparable across groups.
Conclusions: Overall, EAL and monolingual children show very similar levels of reading fluency, although the skills underpinning this literacy outcome may differ by language group at this early stage of development.

Factors predicting reading comprehension in language minority children exposed to a highly transparent L2

First Author/Chair:Paola Bonifacci -- University of Bologna
Additional authors/chairs: 
Valentina Tobia; Luca Bernabini; Margherita Barbieri; Nicole Trambagioli; Giulia Masotti

Contrasting results have been reported in the literature concerning the role of decoding skills and listening comprehension as predictors od reading comprehension in L2 (Proctor, Carlo, August, & Snow, 2005; Babayiğit, 2014; Lervåg & Aukrust, 2010; Verhoeven and van Leeuwe, 2012). The present study was aimed at testing which component within the Simple View of Reading model (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) better predicted reading comprehension in a sample of language minority children exposed to Italian, an highly transparent language, as an L2. The sample was composed of 260 Italian second language learners attending either the first two years of primary school (n=95) or the last three years (n=165). All the participants were exposed to an L1 different from Italian (L2) within the family context from birth and to the Italian language through an extensive scholastic exposure, for at least 3 years. Children were administered a comprehensive battery (ALCE, Bonifacci, Tobia, Lami & Snowling, 2014), theoretically based on the SVR model, for the assessment of decoding skills (word, nonword and passage reading), listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Through a hybrid model including confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and path analysis, run applying a maximum-likelihood (ML) estimator, we examined the role of decoding skills (speed and accuracy) and listening comprehension in predicting reading comprehension performance. Results showed that in both groups of L2 learners listening comprehension was the most powerful predictor of reading comprehension performance, followed, only for younger children by speeding accuracy. Reading speed did not result as a significant predictor either in younger and older children. Results evidenced, with respect to other studies, an even stronger role of listening comprehension in predicting reading comprehension, underlining also the role of lexical route involved in word accuracy in the first stage of schooling.


First Author/Chair: Discussant Monica Melby-Lervåg -- University of Oslo

Monica Melby-Lervåg will draw together the findings from the previous four papers and discuss the implications for future research.