Phonological Awareness and Listening Comprehension among Chinese English-Immersion Students

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ABSTRACT

This study investigates the relationship between English listening comprehension and English and Chinese phonological awareness (PA), and the crosslinguistic transfer of PA in 48 Grade 2 and 47 Grade 4 Chinese English-immersion students. The results of the study indicate a correlation between English PA and English listening comprehension. English listening comprehension had a significant effect on English PA in both grades; this effect is evident after considering Chinese PA, but only in Grade 4. A similar pattern is found for the effect of English PA on English listening comprehension. Only weak evidence exists pertaining to a connection between cross-linguistic transfer from Chinese PA (L1) to English listening comprehension (L2).

INTRODUCTION

English is widely regarded today as the chief language of international communication and has increasingly become a compulsory school subject among nations around the world. This is particularly true for countries like China where success in learning English has become the key to academic success (Cheng, 2008). English immersion programs were established in China during the late 1990s in the lower grades. However, little is known about the factors that contribute to the successful achievement of learning L2 (English) on the part of Chinese children in primary grades. Listening comprehension is one of the four basic language learning skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and is regarded by some language learners as the most difficult language skill to learn in L2 (Hasan, 2000). Therefore, a better understanding of what contributes to English listening comprehension will enhance English-immersion students' development of academie learning and overall success in this language learning. The present study investigates the relationship between listening comprehension and phonological awareness in Chinese English-immersion students. Phonological awareness is a meta-linguistic skill - showing a sensitivity to the sound components of spoken words and the ability to manipulate those components. Phonological awareness is a powerful predictor of reading success, and we will argue that it may be a predictor of listening comprehension. We have also examined cross-linguistic transfer of phonological awareness to listening comprehension in Chinese English-immersion students.

IMMERSION EDUCATION AND CHINESE ENGLISH-IMMERSION PROGRAMS

French immersion programs [i.e., using French, a second language (L2) to teach school subjects to students whose native language is English] have prospered in Canada for over three decades and have demonstrated that immersion education is an effective way of facilitating students' language proficiency and literacy without detrimental effects to their first language (Ll) (Cummins, 1999; Genesee, 1987, 1995; Lapkin, Hart, & Turnbull, 2003; Turnbull, Lapkin, & Hart, 2001). This has been confirmed by the recent studies by Tumbull et al. (2001) and Lapkin et al. (2003) based on the Education Quality and Accountability Office tests in literacy and mathematics in Ontario, Canada. Turnbull et al. (2001) found that French immersion students (i.e., students whose Ll is English and L2 is French) performed equally well to their monolingual peers on tests of English language arts and mathematics after formal instruction in English was provided in Grade 3. Later, Lapkin et al. (2003) indicated that at Grade 6, immersion students' English literacy and mathematics test scores were better than their peers' in English-only programs. Furthermore, Genesee (2004) demonstrated that French immersion students continue to perform as well as their peers in non-immersion programs in all English reading skills after Grade 6.

These successful French immersion programs in Canada have been adopted as a model of second language learning in China. In 1 998, early English immersion programs were carried out in elementary schools starting in Grade 1 in several major Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xi'an, attempting to expose students to more English at an earlier age due to the increasingly important role that English plays in China (Cheng, Li, Kirby, Qiang, & Wade-Woolley, 2010). …