Phonological awareness and working memory are better predictors of poor English learners than prosodic awareness

Phonological awareness and working memory are better predictors of poor English learners than prosodic awareness

First Author: Wei-Lun Chung -- National Taipei University of Education
Keywords: Auditory processing, Prosody, Phonological awareness, English Language Learners (ELL), Working memory
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose
The study explored whether working memory, phonological awareness, and prosodic awareness (speech and non-speech stimuli) could predict poor English learners in individuals.

Methods
Sixty-one Mandarin-speaking fourth graders were given following tasks: (1)Mandarin backward digit span, (2)Mandarin nonword repetition, (3)rise time discrimination (rate of intensity change at tone onset), (4)Mandarin tone perception, (5)Mandarin onset awareness, and (6)English word learning which classified children as poor English learners not successfully naming three pictures (i.e., termite, crocus, and macaw) they had been taught, in two consecutive trials or before the last trial. Logistic regression analyses with group membership (poor vs. good English learners) as the dependent variable and the other tasks as independent variables.

Results
First, backward logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify the best predictors of group membership in two sets of independent variables. Compared with nonword repetition, backward digit span was the only unique predictor. When rise time discrimination, tone perception, and onset awareness were entered together, onset awareness was the only significant predictor. Second, stepwise logistic regression analyses revealed that backward digit span entered after onset awareness improved the accuracy of prediction of group membership, increasing from 75.4% to 82%.

Conclusions
Predictors of group membership were identified as follows: (i)backward digit span is more important than nonword repetition and (ii)phonological awareness outweighs prosodic awareness. The findings suggest that Mandarin-speaking children who are not good at sustain focus and awareness of individual sounds in their native language might have difficulty learning English words as a second/foreign language.