Phonological and lexical predictors of reading and spelling in ESL learners

Phonological and lexical predictors of reading and spelling in ESL learners

First Author: Rui Qi Choo -- University of York
Additional authors/chairs: 
Susan Rickard Liow
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Reading and spelling skill development depend on oral language experience and both are influenced by cross-linguistic processes. For English-speaking monolingual children, phonological memory is associated with vocabulary acquisition as well as literacy development, yet few researchers have investigated the relative contributions of phonological memory and lexical knowledge to English reading and spelling performance in different types of English Second Language learners (ESLs). For this study, Brown and Hulme’s (1996) model of the causal relations among nonword repetition, receptive vocabulary and spelling ability in monolinguals was extended to ESL children with contrasting first languages (L1s), and we included an additional phonological measure (digit span), as well as an outcome measure of reading ability. Method: Two groups of 7-8 year-old ESL bilinguals, with either Mandarin (n=36) or Malay (n=26) as their L1, were assessed at Time 1 (T1) on English digit span, nonword repetition, single-word English receptive vocabulary, and nonverbal intelligence. The same 80-item English reading and spelling list was also administered at T1 and 7 months later at T2. Results: There was no significant contribution of lexical knowledge (vocabulary) to spelling or reading ability for either ESL group, but the contribution of phonological memory differed: Reading and spelling accuracy at T2 were both predicted by digit span at T1 for the Mandarin-ESLs, but by nonword repetition at T1 for Malay-ESL children. Conclusion: This finding is interpreted as evidence that the underlying cognitive-linguistic processing of ESL learners depends on the relationship between the child’s two languages, and may be dissimilar from that of English monolinguals.