What’s age got to do with it? Learning to read in a second language

What’s age got to do with it? Learning to read in a second language

First Author: Alexandra Gottardo -- Wilfrid Laurier University
Keywords: Bilingualism, Biliteracy, Word reading, Reading acquisition, Reading outcomes
Abstract / Summary: 

Research has established many cognitive and linguistic variables related to literacy acquisition in a second language. However, learning a second or additional language (L2) can begin at many different ages. Although age is usually associated with better L2 skills, these effects are often conflated with language experience as well as other variables. The current set of studies examined the effects of age on word reading and reading comprehension. The results of the studies are mixed with age effects being expected in some cases and unexpected in other cases. The findings point to the importance of considering multiple cognitive and demographic variables as well as acknowledging alternative explanations for relationships among variables when examining factors related to L2 acquisition. Additionally, learning experiences in classrooms in North America might result in different relations among variables than for learners in developing countries or for refugees, groups who have different learning experiences and trajectories.

Symposium Papers: 

The role of age and experience in language and literacy attainment: An examination of different age groups of Syrian refugee children

First Author/Chair:Alexandra Gottardo -- Wilfrid Laurier University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Norah Amin; Redab Al-Janaideh; Adriana Soto-Corominas; Xi Chen; Farah Wahib; Johanne Paradis

Purpose: Language and literacy acquisition in second language (L2) learners is related to general experience with the language, which often is associated with age and educational experience as measured by the learner's current grade. In most cases it is not possible to separate a child’s grade at school from their experience with language. However, in the case of these L2 learners, it was possible to separate the effects of age and grade/ school placement. 

Method: The first and second language and literacy scores of Syrian refugee children were examined for two groups of participants. Older children, ages 9-12 years (N=53), and younger children, ages 6-8 years (N = 43), were compared on reading, phonological, morphological and vocabulary measures in English and Arabic. The groups were matched on months of experience with English in Canada. 

Results: Analyses reveal similarities and differences between the groups. The groups differed on all Arabic measures and most English reading and oral language measures. However, the groups did not differ on raw scores for the English vocabulary measure, although differences in standard scores were noted. Results of regressions show that vocabulary and PA were related to English word reading in the younger age group, while PA and MA were related to English word reading in the older age group.

Conclusions: The results are discussed in terms of considering the effects of differences in curriculum and experiences on L2 acquisition by age group. The relative roles of language and educational experience and implications for curriculum and educators are discussed.

Effects of age and the socio-economic status on English learning and motivation to learn a second language in Iranian immigrants and second generation immigrants in Canada

First Author/Chair:Ali Jasemi -- Wilfrid Laurier University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Alexandra Gottardo

Purpose: Previous research studies suggested that age at immigration was strongly related to second language proficiency (Stevens, 1999). Moreover, research on adult foreign language learners in Iran has shown that individuals with higher SES had higher FL skills (Ariani & Ghafournia, 2015), and higher motivation to learn a second language (Khansir & Jafarizadegan, 2016). To our knowledge research on Iranian population’s second language acquisition after arrival to the new country is very limited. The current study examined English reading skills in Iranian newcomers from a diverse background.

Method: Participants were Iranian newcomers, ages 16 to 30 (Mage = 20.98) who came to Canada either as refugees or economic migrants. Socio-economic status (parental age & occupation), acculturation and English language skills were measured.

Results: Age had a significant effect on all English fluency measures with younger individuals performing better. When controlled for the method of immigration (immigrant vs. refugee), parental education was a significant predictor of English reading comprehension (R= . 47), English vocabulary (R= .33) and English word reading (R= .47). Parental occupation only predicted word reading fluency. Age was no longer significant. Refugees and immigrants only differed in terms of parental education.

Conclusion: This study revealed the importance of the effects of method of immigration and parental education beyond participants’ age and parental occupation in relation to English reading skills for adolescents and young adults. This information could be useful for policy makers and language institutions to improve support concerning second language acquisition and social adjustment to newcomer immigrants and refugees.

The development of strategies used by English-French bilingual children to discriminate languages with a shared alphabet

First Author/Chair:Krystina Raymond -- University of Toronto/OISE
Additional authors/chairs: 
Xi Chen; Diane Pesco; Hélène Deacon

Purpose:Strategies used by English-French bilingual children to complete an orthographic processing task and the contributions of orthographic processing to word reading were examined. We hypothesized that children’s scores on a bilingual task of orthographic processing would predict unique variance in word reading for both French and English. Moreover, participants would use more orthographic strategies (reference to spelling) than phonological strategies (reference to sounds) to discriminate the two languages.

Method:Eighty-seven English-French students (French Immersion) were tested longitudinally in Grades 1 and 2. Children were administered orthographic processing task in both languages, the Dictionary Task, in which they were asked to decide whether a pseudoword could be a word in French or English. They were then given a verbal self-report task, Strategy Taskto examine the strategies they used to identify the pseudoword as French or English.

Results:Performance on the Dictionary Taskwas significantly above chance at both time points, and it improved overtime. Thus, for the majority of the children orthographic processing was evident as early as first grade. Regressions revealed that orthographic processing measured in Grades 1 and 2 made a significant contribution to word reading in French and English beyond multiple controls. Both grades reported using orthographic strategies more frequently than phonological strategies, including analogies (comparing word bodies in pseudowords to real words). 

Conclusion:The study provides novel data on the strategies English-French bilinguals use to discriminate languages with a shared alphabet, and confirms a relationship between orthographic processing and word reading in French and English.

A longitudinal study on the role of word reading fluency: Learning French as a second language

First Author/Chair:Michelle Ru Yun Huo -- University of Toronto/ OISE
Additional authors/chairs: 
PohWee Koh ; Yahua Cheng; Xi Becky Chen

Purpose: French language education is an important instructional stream within Canada’s education systems. For children learning to read French as a second language, skills such as oral reading fluency serve as an indicator for higher level processing in their L2 (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001). Theories of automaticity in reading (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974) also highlight the centrality of reading fluency to reading comprehension, suggesting that the role of fluency might become more significant with age. In the present study, we examinedthe relative contributions of fluency and word accuracy over time in French among emerging English-French bilinguals. 

Method: This study was conducted in the context of French immersion, with instruction exclusively in French in the Grades 1 and 2. Non-FrancophoneChildren enrolled in French immersion programs (N=392) were followed for two years from Grade one to two. Participants completed French measures of word reading accuracy, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension once per year for two years. 

Results: SEM models showed that word reading fluency was a significant contributor of reading comprehension (βs = 0.47 & 0.64 respectively, p < 0.01) in both grades one and two. Vocabulary knowledge was not a significant predictor in grade one (β=0.10, p=0.08) but significantly predicted reading comprehension in grade two (β=0.14, p=0.03). Word reading accuracy was a significant predictor of reading comprehension in grade one (β=0.23, p=0.01,) but not in grade two (β=0.09, p=0.31). 

Conclusions: Reading comprehension models should account for growth in word reading skills in young learners in immersion settings.

L1, L2, and L3 reading among multi-linguals of different age groups: Learners in the Philippines

First Author/Chair:Portia Padilla -- Wilfrid Laurier University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Alexandra Gottardo

Purpose: Reading comprehension can be viewed as the product of decoding and language comprehension. As children grow, the relative importance of each of these factors changes. In this study, we examined age effects on reading comprehension and its components. We hypothesized that older children would perform better in word reading, vocabulary (language comprehension), and reading comprehension. Additionally, we predicted that among older children, vocabulary would play a more significant role than word reading in reading comprehension. 

Method: One hundred eight Grade 4 and 114 Grade 6 Kapampangan (L1) - Filipino (L2) - English (L3) multilingual children in the Philippines were given measures of word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension in their three languages.

Results: Independent samples t-test revealed that Grade 6 students scored higher than their younger counterparts in word reading and vocabulary in all three languages. They also performed better in L2 reading comprehension, but their L1 and L3 reading comprehension scores did not differ from those of the Grade 4 students. Hierarchical regressions indicated that among Grade 4 students, only word reading had a significant unique contribution to L1 and L2 reading comprehension, while both word reading and vocabulary uniquely contributed to L3 reading comprehension. The same pattern of results was evident among the Grade 6 children. 

Conclusions: The findings are not fully consistent with the study’s predictions and the literature on the subject. These have implications for reading theory and assessment among multilingual speakers. There is a need to conduct further research among children who read in three or more languages.