Academic journal article International Education Studies

The Contribution of L1 Phonemic Awareness into L2 Reading: The Case of Arab EFL Readers

Academic journal article International Education Studies

The Contribution of L1 Phonemic Awareness into L2 Reading: The Case of Arab EFL Readers

Article excerpt


Cross-language transfer is the extent, if any, to which phonological awareness in L1 facilitates learning to read in L2. This has been an area of investigation wherein researchers looked into the orthographic and phonological component processing skills L2 learners develop and utilize to facilitate word recognition. Given the difference between the orthographic systems of Arabic (L1) and English (L2), how difficult is it for beginning Arab EFL learners to develop these skills? Arab EFL learners seem to have difficulty with prelexical word recognition processes leading to slower and perhaps even less accurate L2 word recognition skills. This study examines the possibility of transferring Arabic phonological awareness to learning English. Results are reported, most important of which is the confirmation of cross-language transfer.

Keywords: phonics, phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, language learners

1. Introduction

In spite of being around for years, only recently has phonological awareness won researchers' attention. In their discussion targeting reading difficulties and possible contributing factors, researchers in psychology have focused their attention on the relationship between sound awareness and learners' ability to read (Ehri, 1997; Goswami, 2000; Olofsson & Niedersoe, 1999). Major conclusions label children who fail to segment or blend spoken words as disabled. The National Reading Panel Report to the U.S. Congress (1998) could not help but to firmly advocate helping children hear sounds in words, know the letters of the alphabet, know letter-to-sound correspondences, and develop the ability to read words (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998, p. 5, cited in Gillet, Temple, & Crawford, 2004).

Phonological awareness is defined as the consciousness of (Gillet et al., 2004; Layton, Deeny, Upton, & Tall, 1988; Stanovich, 1991) and the ability to manipulate (Anthony & Francis, 2005; Chard & Dickson, 1999) the language sounds including syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes. According to Anthony and Francis (2005), it involves the movement from the recognition of properties to the ability to produce examples. Thus, at one level one can nominate pairs of words that rhyme when presented orally; at a higher level one can produce examples. As they grow older, children develop more and more sensitivity to smaller and smaller word parts; they manipulate syllables before onsets and rimes, manipulate onsets and rimes before individual phonemes, and blend phonological information before they segment.

Research findings confirm that individuals with difficulty in detecting or manipulating sounds in words will struggle with learning to read (see Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling, & Scanlon, 2004; Hatcher, Hulme, & Snowling, 2004; Share, 1995; Snowling, 1998; Anthony & Farncis, 2005). Accordingly, a legitimate association between phonological awareness and reading development is possible.

2. Area Description

To date, Arabic phonological awareness has not received its due attention (Alshaboul, Asassfeh, Alshboul, & Momani, 2013) let alone the possibility of using this awareness in EFL learning experiences. This study, which investigates the effect of Arabic phonological awareness (L1) on learning English (L2), is a step towards filling this void.

At the outset, Arabic utilizes an alphabetic orthography that corresponds to consonant and vowel phonemes (Fender, 2003). The Arabic orthographic system is phonologically transparent (Wanger, 1993; Abu-Rabia, 1997a, 1999), which should facilitate Arab learners' L1 word recognition (Abu-Rabia, 1997b). English orthography, on the other hand is less phonologically transparent (Fender, 2003); it has many inconsistencies regarding both the orthographic representation of vowels and the variety of context-sensitive phoneme-grapheme irregularities (For further detail see Berent & Perfetti, 1995; Cortese & Simpson, 2000). …

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