Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning in Monolinguals and Language Minority English-Speaking College Students

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning in Monolinguals and Language Minority English-Speaking College Students

Article excerpt

The population of language minority (LM) learners (August & Shanahan, 2008) in the United States continues to increase each year. LM learners now represent nearly 11.2 million students in U.S. schools (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2012). Unfortunately, the disparity in academic achievement between LM and native English speakers is vast (García & Kleifgen, 2010). For LM students it is more difficult to acquire literacy in a second language (August & Shanahan, 2008), once acquired growth is slower (Kieffer, 2008), and LM students are more likely to develop reading difficulties by the end of the primary grades (Kieffer, 2010). While the field acknowledges that LM learners are at increased risk for reading difficulties, the sources of the difficulties have yet to be fully understood (August & Shanahan, 2006). Additionally, despite the large body of literacy research, it still is not clear how ecological and psychological characteristics relate to students' cognitive reading profiles and subsequently, their reading proficiency (Kieffer & Vukovic, 2012).

Vocabulary Learning

The National Reading Panel (2000) confirmed the central role of vocabulary knowledge for successful reading comprehension and academic achievement. Vocabulary skills have been shown to be strongly related to reading comprehension in both children and adults (Braze, Tabor, Shankweiler, & Mencl, 2007; Perfetti & Hart, 2002; Ransby & Swanson, 2007). Unfortunately, research has demonstrated a sizable disparity in vocabulary knowledge between advantaged and disadvantaged populations (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001; Hart & Risley, 1995). Considering the fact that these disparities exist between subgroups of students who all speak English, it is alarming to consider what this disparity may look like for LM learners of English of whom 15% are considered to have low SES (García & Kleifgen, 2010). Additionally, it is important to note that learning a new vocabulary word includes learning the phonological, syntactic, semantic, orthographic, and morphological identity of a word, which makes the process all the more challenging for LM students who have less exposure to colloquial English (Gathercole, 2006; Nagy & Scott, 2000).

Role of Orthography in Vocabulary Learning

Research has demonstrated the important role of spellings in word learning. Ehri and Wilce (1979) showed that the spellings of words serve as a mnemonic device that supports the reader's ability to retain the pronunciation of nonwords in memory. In their study, first and second grade students were given multiple trials to learn four nonsense syllables. In the experimental condition students were shown the spelling of the words, and the other condition did not see any spellings. The findings demonstrated that nonword syllables were recalled significantly better when spellings of words were present during learning trials. The authors explained that spellings facilitate word learning by activating connections between orthographic representations and pronunciations in memory. Additionally, Ricketts, Bishop, and Nation (2009) found that 8-9 year olds were better able to recall the spellings and meanings of nonwords when the orthographic representation of the word was available. Overall, the authors found that children learned the spellings and referent pairings of words better when training included orthography, although no attention or instruction was given to the orthography by the experimenter

Rosenthal and Ehri (2008) also investigated the role of orthography in acquiring new vocabulary words. In their study, the authors explicitly taught second and fifth grade students the spoken forms and meanings of several low frequency nouns. The words were pronounced, defined in a sentence using a concrete synonym, and pictorially represented. The spellings of the words appeared on training cards in one condition, but not in the other. …

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