Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Cognitive Factors in Children's L1 and L2 Reading

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Cognitive Factors in Children's L1 and L2 Reading

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study aims to identify the similarities and differences in cognitive and metacognitive skills employed by native English (NE) speakers and English (L2) learners at the elementary school level, and how these skills relate to their reading proficiency levels. Regardless of students' native language status, strong readers and struggling readers appear to share many features in common. The only differences between NE and L2 students were found to be in their receptive vocabulary size and their vocabulary-related skills.

Introduction

There are a growing number of bilingual children who come from non-English speaking homes in the U.S., and the challenges they face in developing their English ability as well as their academic achievement are a major concern among educators. According to the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) 2003 Reading Report Card for the United States, 72% of the fourth graders who come from non-English speaking homes read "below basic level" (National Center Educational Statistics, 2003). While we must understand what prevents these children from reading English well in order to be able to develop appropriate pedagogies for them, cognitive and metacognitive processing and strategies in L2 reading studies among young students in the U.S. have been somewhat neglected. In particular, we have relatively little knowledge of how such cognitive and metacognitive processes and strategies differ between native English speaking students and bilingual English learning students (Garcia, 2000; Jimenez, Garcia, & Pearson, 1996). This study aims to enhance our understanding of this issue by identifying the similarities and differences in cognitive and metacognitive skills employed by monolingual native English speakers and bilingual English learners at the elementary school level. The study then examines how these skills relate to students' reading proficiency levels.

L1 and L2 reading

Much of our knowledge of second language reading (L2 reading) depends on existing theories of native language reading (L1 reading): such theories include the bottom-up model (e.g., Gough 1972; LaBerge & Samuels, 1974); the psycholinguistic approach (e.g., Goodman, 1967; Smith, 1994); Schema theory (e.g., Rumelhart, 1980); and the interactive model (Stanovich, 1980). Based on these models, a number of important subskills in reading have been identified. Over the years, researchers have tried to clarify the relationships among these subskills as well as the relationship between these skills and reading comprehension. Subskills that have been identified and studied include phonological awareness, vocabulary knowledge, memory, morpho-syntactic knowledge, background knowledge, inference and reasoning skills, metacognitive strategies, as well as a number of additional subskills. Although one can expect that these subskills are all important for L2 reading as well as L1 reading, L2 reading should be fundamentally different from L1 reading since one cannot ignore readers' L1 knowledge and their prior experience of reading in their L1 (Koda, 2005). Moreover, in understanding young children's L2 reading, one needs to consider some additional factors. Unlike adults, children are still in the process of developing their L1 as well as their L2. Their general cognitive and metacognitive capacities are also still being developed. One may hypothesize that these cognitive and metacognitive factors may affect young learners' reading comprehension performance differently in their L1 and L2.

The limited studies available so far on L2 reading among young learners indicate that the following cognitive and metacognitve factors are influential with respect to young students' L2 reading: metalinguistic awareness and strategies, phonological/phonemic awareness, and vocabulary (Pang & Kamil, 2004). Garcia (1991) found that an unknown vocabulary hindered young L2 readers' comprehension. …

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