Word Level Skills Across Diverse Groups of Bilingual Learners

Word Level Skills Across Diverse Groups of Bilingual Learners

First Author: Xi Chen -- University of Toronto
Keywords: Bilingualism, Word reading, Word Learning
Abstract / Summary: 

This symposium includes five papers examining word level skills across diverse groups of bilingual learners. In addition to the popularly studied Chinese-English and Spanish-English language pairs, the abstracts examine development of word reading skill in Hebrew-English and speakers of akshara languages in India. In comparison with most research, which focuses on the roles of different aspects of metalinguistic skills (phonological awareness, morphological awareness, and orthographic processing) in word reading, the symposium also explores the impact of vocabulary (breadth and depth) and shared book reading on word reading and learning. Some studies in the symposium employed longitudinal and interventional designs to reveal trajectories of and causal influences in word reading skills. Taken together, the results suggest that phonological awareness, morphological awareness, vocabulary and lexical quality are important for word reading across different languages. However, the extent of contribution of a particular skill is determined by the characteristics of the language.

Symposium Papers: 

Role of decoding in developing vocabulary in akshara reading in multilingual children

First Author/Chair:Pooja Nakamura -- American Institutes for Research
Additional authors/chairs: 
Malt Joshi; Xuejun Ryan Ji

We examined the nature of dual syllable and phoneme awareness in early akshara word reading in multilingual children in India.
Methods. Data were collected from 488 children in Grades 1 to 5 in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Commonality analysis was used to determine the relative contributions of syllable awareness, phoneme awareness, and oral vocabulary knowledge within each language in akshara decoding across grades.
Results. Syllabic awareness, phonemic awareness, and oral vocabulary knowledge together explained from 43% to 53% of the variance in decoding, and that remained relatively consistent across the grades. Furthermore, there is a growing contribution of syllable deletion throughout the grades; in contrast, the unique contribution of phonemic awareness decreases through the grades, as it becomes increasingly subsumed within syllabic awareness ability. The role of oral vocabulary knowledge does not present a clear pattern.
Conclusion. This study builds on the literature on akshara languages to shed light on the precise nature of the developmental asymmetry in the dual syllable and phoneme representation, and the longer-lasting role of decoding in relation to oral vocabulary knowledge in akshara reading in multilingual children.

Word learning from informational and narrative texts: English-Hebrew dual language learners

First Author/Chair:Deborah Deitcher -- Tel Aviv University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Helen Johnson

Purpose: Dual language learners (DLL) often need particular support in learning vocabulary. Studies demonstrate that shared book reading (SBR) is useful in facilitating vocabulary learning amongst DLLs. This study extends the research and explores SBR interactions within English-Hebrew DLLs and how text genre influences their word learning.
Method: Forty-five parents were video-recorded reading books to their English (L1)-Hebrew (L2) DLL preschooler at home. Each dyad read two sets of books (a narrative and an informational text on the same theme). Pretests included Hebrew and English vocabulary, and knowledge of 48 target words (12 per book) of varying difficulty levels. Target words were posttested in English.
Results. Results showed that children learned a significant number of target words at both the receptive and expressive levels. Interestingly, knowing a word at pretest in Hebrew (L2) predicted learning it in English (L1). Child’s age, prior vocabulary knowledge, and target word difficulty predicted receptive and expressive learning, while number of years in Israel also predicted expressive word learning.
Contrary to expectation, book genre did not predict word learning. However, it did impact the SBR interaction. When reading informational texts, mothers and children initiated more and took more turns talking. References to vocabulary, questions, text-to-reader references, restatements, and elaborations nearly doubled during informational text readings.
Conclusions: Results support the theoretical view of dual language as a bi-directional system where the languages interact with one another (Kesckes, 2008). They also highlight the importance of including informational texts in SBR repertoires.

The relationship between vocabulary breadth and depth and word reading

First Author/Chair:Poh Wee Koh -- University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Xi Chen; Alexandra Gottardo; Susan Rickard Liow

Purpose: Two-stage and interactive models of reading propose two dimensions of vocabulary that correspond to breadth and depth of lexical knowledge. However, the multi-dimensional nature of vocabulary is often not examined in research pertaining to English word reading of bilingual children, and even less so in Mandarin reading. The purpose of the study was to examine the relationships between the different dimensions of vocabulary and English and Mandarin word reading. Method: Eighty-three Grade three Chinese-English bilingual children in Singapore completed measures of non-verbal reasoning, phonological awareness, vocabulary breadth and depth (paradigmatic and syntagmatic knowledge and morphological awareness) and word recognition in both English and Mandarin. Results: Hierarchical linear regressions showed that morphological awareness was a significant predictor of word reading in both English and Mandarin. Paradigmatic knowledge was a significant predictor of reading in English whereas syntagmatic knowledge significantly predicted word reading in Mandarin, after controlling for non-verbal reasoning and phonological awareness. The contribution of vocabulary breadth was subsumed under that of the depth measures in both languages. Transfer was only observed from English morphological awareness to Mandarin word reading. Conclusion: The patterns observed in the relationships between vocabulary and word reading are possibly explained by the characteristics of the writing systems of English and Chinese and the socio-linguistic environment of the bilingual children in the present study. Educational implications are discussed.

The role of morphological awareness in word reading in English as a Second Language learners: Beyond the usual suspects

First Author/Chair:Alexandra Gottardo -- Wilfrid Laurier University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Xi Chen; Poh Wee Koh; Lorinda Mak; Christine Javier

Relations among morphological awareness, reading and vocabulary acquisition have been studied in native speakers in the later elementary grades (Carlisle, 2000; Nagy, Berninger & Abott, 2006). For second language learners, the role of morphological awareness in reading has focused on reading comprehension (Carlo et al., 2004; Kieffer & Lesaux, 2008). Spanish and Chinese differ in terms of orthographic depth, with Spanish being a regular consistent alphabetic orthography and Chinese being written as a morpho-syllabic language. Morphological awareness is related to reading in Chinese (Pasquarella, Chen, Lam & Luo, 2011; McBride-Chang Shu, Zhou, Wat & Wagner, 2003) and in Spanish (Ramirez, Chen, Geva & Kiefer, 2010). However, the role of morphological awareness in addition to phonological awareness has rarely been examined in these two groups in one study.
Method: Participants were Spanish-English speakers (N = 51) and Chinese-English speakers (N = 46) in grades 4 to 6. They were tested on measures of word reading, phonological awareness, morphological awareness and vocabulary. Results and conclusion: A series of regression analyses were conducted to determine the unique role of morphological awareness in word reading. The results show that morphological awareness was uniquely related to word reading for the Spanish and Chinese speakers, β = .394, t = 2.62, p < .05 and β = .631, t = 3.51, p ≤ .001, respectively. Therefore, despite similar patterns, slight differences were observed between groups. The relative role of morphological awareness and phonological awareness in reading longer, morphologically complex words versus shorter words is explored.

Addressing the Lexical Quality Hypothesis with English Language Learners

First Author/Chair:Megan O'Connor -- University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Esther Geva

Purpose: This study assessed whether there is support for the Lexical Quality Hypothesis (LQH) in English Language Learners (ELLs). According to the LQH (Perfetti & Hart, 2002), word representations that integrate phonological, orthographic and semantic information are of higher quality, and are more likely to lead to successful reading comprehension.
Methods: The cognitive, language and reading skills of 51 English Language Learners (ELLs) who arrived in Canada after grade 1, and 49 English as a first language monolinguals (EL1s) was tracked over three years. Factor analysis was conducted on the grade 5 data to establish that phonological awareness, orthographical ability and semantic knowledge form a unitary construct in the ELL and EL1 groups. ELLs and EL1s were divided into poor and good comprehenders (relative to their reference group) based on performance on a reading comprehension measure in grade 5.
Expected Results: Further analyses are currently underway. We anticipate that a similar pattern will emerge for both ELLs and EL1s, in which highly skilled comprehenders have (relatively) higher quality, coherent word representations that integrate all three lexical constituents, including stronger inter-correlations between phonological, orthographic and semantic measures, than poor comprehenders.
Conclusions: The anticipated findings will demonstrate that a similar mechanism of word reading contributes to the reading comprehension of ELLs as EL1s, and that it is important to consider the contributions of phonological, orthographic and semantic components to high-quality word representations and poor quality representations.