Spelling in alphabetic languages

Spelling in alphabetic languages

First Author: R. Malatesha Joshi -- Texas A & M University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Poh Wee Koh; Kay Wijekumar
Keywords: German, Spanish, Spelling, Orthography, Biliteracy
Abstract / Summary: 

Spelling provides valuable information about children’s extent of orthographic knowledge which is one of the major foundations of language and literacy development. However, as compared to reading, spelling research has received much less attention, even less so in the spelling development of children learning English as a second language and in other non-English alphabetic languages. What holds true for monolingual children learning English might not be universal across different learners and different alphabetic languages. For instance, it has been shown that monolingual Spanish speaking children make more errors on consonants than on vowels, a trend opposite of what is seen among monolingual English speaking children. The purpose of this symposium is to examine the spelling performance of children from bilingual backgrounds who learn English and contrast that to other alphabetic languages of differing orthographic depth. The papers adopt multiple perspectives, looking at both spelling errors and achievement of children.”

Symposium Papers: 

Language-specific effects in response to spelling intervention in Italian (L1) and English (EFL).

First Author/Chair:Barbara Arfé -- University of Padova, Italy
Additional authors/chairs: 
Tamara Zancato

Purpose: According to the central processing hypothesis learning to spell involves similar abilities across orthographies. A prediction, based on this hypotehsis, is that the same spelling training should be effective both in a shallow (Italian, L1) and opaque (English, L2) orthography. We tested this prediction by administering to 7-9 year-old Italian children the same spelling training -based on teaching functional (multiletter) spelling units (adapted from Berninger et al., 1998)- in Italian and English (EFL). Italian words were selected to include several examples of words that required syllabic/multiletter transcription (e.g., context dependent graphemes).
Method: In a stepped-wedge cluster randomized trial, 114 Italian native speakers (ages 7-9) were addressed to the experimental spelling training or to a waiting-list condition. The experimental group received the experimental training in Italian and English between Time 1 and Time 2 (one month: 8 training sessions), the wait-list control group received the same intervention between Time 2 and Time 3. Children’s ability to spell the trained (Italian and English) word lists and their ability to generalize the acquired knowledge to new (untrained) words were assessed.
Results: Italian and English spelling scores at time 1 correlated significantly (between .48 to .62) and similar learning effects were found in the two languages for the words trained. Yet, only in English the children generalized the acquired spelling knowledge to new words.
Conclusions: The lack of generalization in L1 suggests that children learned spelling procedures or rules in English but not in Itallian. Language-specific factors could explain why children failed to generalize in L1.

Spelling error analyses in German

First Author/Chair:Malt Joshi -- Texas A & M University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Matthias Grunke; Esther Breuer; Ryan Xuejun Ji; Shuai Zhang

Purpose: English speaking children make more errors on vowels than on consonants while spelling English words due to the inconsistencies in letter-sound correspondences with 5 vowel letters making 18 sounds. How would children perform on spelling words in a transparent orthography with a closer relationship of vowel letters and sounds? We addressed this question in German orthography which has almost 1:1 correspondence between vowel letters and sounds.
Method: 507 students from Grades 4-6 (mean age = 10;95; sd = 1.21) were administered a spelling test in German consisting of 300 words. The words were selected from the textbooks and were matched for frequency and number of syllables. The number of errors relating to vowel substitution, vowel deletion, consonant substitution, consonant deletion, and combined errors were computed. Latent Class Analyses (LCA) were computed to examine the number of errors made relating to vowels and consonant errors. An additional analysis was performed to examine the spelling performance of native speakers of German and of those who were learning German as a second language from different first language such as Arabic and Russian.
Results: Results of LCA showed that spelling performance improved as the grade levels increased and at all grade levels students committed more consonant based errors than on vowels. Further, students whose first language was Arabic committed more errors than others whose first language was Turkish or Russian.
Conclusions: German speaking children made more errors on Vowels than on consonants; so, what is true for English may not be true for German and so, more emphasis has to be placed on teaching consonants. Further, first language orthography may influence spelling of German words.

Spanish Early Kindergarten Literacy Interventions and Predictors of End of Grade One Spelling

First Author/Chair:María Elsa Porta -- CONICET –Mendoza, Argentina
Additional authors/chairs: 
Gloria Ramirez

Purpose – (1) To examine the effects of two kindergarten interventions (Phonological Awareness (PA) only versus vocabulary + Morphological Awareness (MA) + PA) on grade one spelling, and (2) to examine longitudinal and concurrent predictors of spelling from kindergarten to grade one.
Method – Participants were 130 Spanish monolingual, Argentinian children from low SES backgrounds. Kindergarten teachers implemented the interventions with support (for small group intensive work) by speech and language pathologists, over a period of three months (22 hours total). The conditions were compared using a pre-posttest quasi-experimental design. Children were assessed on vocabulary, letter-word identification, PA, word reading, and MA, and spelling in kindergarten and in grade one. We also examined concurrent and longitudinal predictors of grade one spelling from kindergarten to grade one.
Results - Repeated ANOVAs indicated that children in intervention groups outperformed children in the control group on grade one spelling. Hierarchical linear regression analyses with kindergarten predictors and grade one spelling as the outcome variable revealed that kindergarten, letter sound knowledge and PA uniquely and independently predicted grade one spelling. By grade one, word reading became the strongest predictor of spelling followed by PA.
Conclusions –Findings highlight three implications: (1) properly trained teachers can successfully implement early interventions, (2) PA and letter-sound knowledge can be used in kindergarten to identify children at-risk of spelling difficulties in Spanish, (3) In grade one, interventions on Spanish spelling should be integrated with word reading.

Analysis of spelling performance and contextual factors among native Spanish-speaking English language learners

First Author/Chair:Amanda Lindner -- Texas A & M University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kay Wijekumar; R. M. Joshi

Purpose – Improving the literacy skills of English Language Learners (ELLs) is critical to their life-long success as these students have lower performance and higher drop-out rates than their native English-speaking peers. The orthographic differences between Spanish and English present a unique challenge for native Spanish-speaking ELLs, and understanding the effects of the Spanish orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills in English is a critical step to improving these students’ literacy.
Method – A total of 209 native Spanish-speaking ELLs in Grades 4 and 5 completed 25 English and 25 Spanish spelling words from standardized tests. The words were examined for errors and analyzed using latent class analysis, a 7-point spelling rubric, and feature analysis. The teachers of the participants were interviewed to determine ways in which the spelling instruction and assessment students receive in the classroom impact their spelling performance.
Results – Spelling errors made by the ELLs were indicative of the orthographies. The results also showed that ELLs have an advantage when learning to spell in English where consistencies exist between the orthographies, but they still struggle when inconsistencies arise. The students made English-influenced errors when spelling in their native language, Spanish, indicating a lack of knowledge of the differences between the two orthographies.
Conclusions – Explicit instruction regarding vowels and double consonants is recommended for ELLs. They may also benefit from explicit instruction highlighting the differences between English and Spanish to prevent the languages from impacting one another during development.

Differences in bilingual preschool children’s code-related skills based on exposure to the language of school instruction at home

First Author/Chair:Trelani Milburn
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kathleen Hipfner-Boucher; Stefano Rezzonico; Elaine Weitzman; Janice Greenberg; Janette Pelletier; Luigi Girolametto

Purpose: Kindergarten classrooms in multicultural cities often include children with varied first languages and differing levels of exposure to the language of classroom instruction (e.g., Hipfner-Boucher et al., 2015). In this study, we explored the early literacy abilities of two subgroups of English Language Learners relative to a group of monolingual (ML) peers.
Method: Two groups of bilingual children were selected based on parents’ report of the language children heard and spoke most often at home (i.e., English (BL-Eng) or a minority language (BL-Min)). A group of monolingual English children, matched for age and gender, served as a comparison group (n = 25 per group). All children (Mean age = 56 months) completed measures of letter naming, letter writing, phonological awareness, and word spelling. Experimental measures were scored using established matrices (Puranik & Apel, 2010; Tangel & Blachman, 1992 modified).
Results: Kruskal Wallis tests with Mann-Whitney U follow-up comparisons indicated that BL-Eng children performed similarly to their ML peers in letter naming and phonological awareness but significantly higher than their ML counterparts on word spelling (U=187.5, z=-2.44, p=.015). BL-Min children performed similarly to their BL-Eng peers on word spelling despite scoring significantly lower than that group in letter naming (U=187.0, z=-2.47, p=.013) and significantly lower than the ML group in phonological awareness (U=138.5, z=-3.38, p=.001). There were no significant group differences in letter writing.
Conclusions: These findings indicate the heterogeneity of bilingual children’s code-related skills and the importance of gathering information related to children’s home language environment to inform instruction.