The predictors of text reading fluency in isiXhosa and isiZulu in grade 1

The predictors of text reading fluency in isiXhosa and isiZulu in grade 1

First Author: Maxine Schaefer -- University of South Africa
Additional authors/chairs: 
Carien Wilsenach
Keywords: Phonological awareness, rapid automatized naming, Vocabulary, transparent orthography, South Africa
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: There is some evidence that phonological awareness (PA) and rapid automatized naming (RAN) are predictors of reading in the transparently written but complex alphabetic orthographies of Southern Bantu languages. This study explores the correlates of reading fluency and accuracy in two closely related Nguni languages, namely isiXhosa and isiZulu.
Method: 139 first graders (78 girls; 70 isiZulu speaking) from three no-fee paying South African public schools participated in the study. Age ranged from 71 to 93 months (M = 80, SD = 5). Participants were assessed in isiXhosa and isiZulu on syllable and phoneme deletion (PA), rapid digit naming (RAN), nonword repetition (NWR), receptive vocabulary, letter recognition and text reading.
Results: Participants had low levels of reading fluency and accuracy. Linear regression analyses showed that PA (syllable and phoneme deletion) and letter fluency were the only significant correlates of reading fluency, explaining 36% and 11% of the variance. PA (phoneme awareness), vocabulary and letter knowledge were significant predictors of reading accuracy, explaining 30%, 14% and 5% of the variance. RAN and NWR did not reach significance. The results did not differ by language.
Conclusion: The results highlight that PA and letter knowledge are essential components for reading in isiXhosa and isiZulu in grade 1, supporting findings from other transparent orthographies. While syllable and phoneme awareness both predicted fluency, only phoneme awareness predicted accuracy, emphasising a need for the teaching of explicit letter-sound correspondences at both levels of awareness at early stages of reading development in these languages.