Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Influence of L1 Orthography on Spelling English Words by Bilingual Children: A Natural Experiment Comparing Syllabic, Phonological, and Morphosyllabic First Languages

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Influence of L1 Orthography on Spelling English Words by Bilingual Children: A Natural Experiment Comparing Syllabic, Phonological, and Morphosyllabic First Languages

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined the influence of first language (L1) orthography on bilingual children's spelling performance in their second language (L2), English. The subtests of spelling and letter-word identification from the Woodcock Proficiency Battery were administered to a sample of 285 six-year-olds in Singapore. All children received literacy instruction in English through the "look-say" method. Analyses of covariance showed a statistically significant effect of L1 on conventional spelling but not on phonological spelling, controlling for reading proficiency. The Chinese (morphosyllabic) group not only scored higher than the Malay (alphabetic) and Tamil (syllabic) groups overall, but also made more real-word substitution and transposition errors. The results are discussed in terms of the influence of L1 orthographic depth on spelling, and how learning disability specialists can utilize the information while evaluating the spelling/literacy skills of English L2 learners.

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Children having difficulty learning to spell may be dyslexic or have an underlying cognitive or learning disability. Students who are learning English as a second language (L2), however, may demonstrate atypical English spellings that are due to the influence of exposure to literacy in their first language (L1). Given concerns regarding the persistent over- and underclassification of English L2 learners as qualifying for special education services (Rueda & Windmueller, 2006), it is essential for diagnosticians and teachers to recognize patterns of spelling errors that may be due to L1 influences as opposed to those that may indicate a need for special education services.

Children may be diagnosed as having reading disorders due to difficulties in either decoding ("sounding out") or encoding (spelling) words. Compared to receptive decoding skills, productive spelling performance in dictation is a better indicator of the quality of children's word representations, which, according to Perfetti and Hart (2002), are dependent on the accuracy of the representations of constituent letters in words, phonologically, orthographically, and semantically. Before children are able to use knowledge of orthographic systems to represent words analytically, their word representations usually contain inaccurate or incomplete phonological and orthographic representations of certain letter constituents (Wang, Koda, & Perfetti, 2003).

Typically developing monolingual children display a pattern of errors that reflects their movement through phases or stages of literacy development (Ehri, 1997; Moats, 1995). Bilingual, or multilingual, children's lexical representations follow a similar pattern with the addition that both, or all, languages, consecutively or simultaneously acquired, impact the representation in the other (August & Shanahan, 2006). Therefore, for children speaking more than one language who are learning to read, spell, and write in English, the orthography in L1 must be taken into consideration when examining their reading and spelling acquisition in English.

One prominent theory that seeks to explain literacy processes in different orthographies is the Orthographic Depth Hypothesis (ODH) (Katz & Frost, 1992). According to the ODH, reading processes differ according to the degree of "depth" of the orthography. Starting at the very "shallow" end, where orthography has a one-to-one phoneme-grapheme correspondence, orthographies are placed on a continuum depending on grapheme and phoneme mapping consistency. Thus, readers and spellers of a shallow orthography, such as Finnish, Spanish, or Malay, depend more on the phonological operations, whereas readers and spellers of an extremely deep orthography, such as Chinese, may depend more on visual script or pictorial operations in processing words (Katz & Frost, 1992). Syllabic scripts such as Tamil and Japanese Kana belong somewhere in the middle of the orthographic depth continuum, using both phonological and visual operations in processing words. …

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