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Matvey Krylov
Matvey Krylov

Children Learning English

Many children learning English as an additional language (EAL) show reading comprehension difficulties despite adequate decoding. However, the relationship between early language and reading comprehension in this group is not fully understood. The language and literacy skills of 80 children learning English from diverse language backgrounds and 80 monolingual English-speaking peers with language weaknesses were assessed at school entry (mean age = 4 years, 7 months) and after 2 years of schooling in the UK (mean age = 6 years, 3 months). The EAL group showed weaker language skills and stronger word reading than the monolingual group but no difference in reading comprehension. Individual differences in reading comprehension were predicted by variations in decoding and language comprehension in both groups to a similar degree.

Children Learning English


Reading development depends upon both decoding and oral language skills, as summarised by the Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). Moreover, different cognitive skills have been identified that support the development of different aspects of reading: letter knowledge and phonological processing appear to underpin decoding (e.g. Hulme, Bowyer-Crane, Carroll, Duff, & Snowling, 2012; Lonigan, Burgess, & Anthony, 2000; Lonigan et al., 2009; Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Stevenson, 2004), while vocabulary and grammar underpin reading comprehension (e.g. Muter et al., 2004; Oakhill, Cain, & Bryant, 2003; Oakhill & Cain, 2012; Ricketts, Nation, & Bishop, 2007). In addition, research suggests that the relative importance of these skills to reading comprehension changes over time, with language skills becoming more predictive of reading comprehension as children gain mastery over decoding skills (e.g. Tilstra, McMaster, Van den Broek, Kendeou, & Rapp, 2009; Vellutino, Tunmer, Jaccard, & Chen, 2007). Much of this research has been carried out with English-speaking children, although there is a growing body of research highlighting similarities and differences in patterns of reading development found in children learning to read in languages other than English (e.g. Babayagit & Stainthorp, 2007; Caravolas et al., 2012; Florit & Cain, 2011; Georgiou, Torppa, Manolitsis, Lyytinen, & Parrila, 2012).

In contrast, less research exists exploring the component processes that underpin the early reading development of children learning to read in English as an additional language (EAL), particularly in a UK context where the language background of English language learners is diverse. Recent statistics from the UK Department for Education indicate that 20.1 % of children in UK primary schools are learning English as an additional language (Department for Education, 2016). Results from national tests of language and literacy reveal a consistent achievement gap in many areas between EAL children and their monolingual English-speaking peers at the early stages of schooling in the UK (Strand, Malmberg, & Hall, 2015). There is clearly a need to provide support for EAL children in developing their early language and literacy skills.

Language support may be particularly important in this group. The level of exposure to English prior to school entry varies in EAL children, but many children will enter school with limited English language skills, particularly in terms of vocabulary knowledge (e.g. Mahon & Crutchley, 2006). As such, while typically developing monolingual English-speaking children can use their existing vocabulary knowledge to support the mapping of newly encountered words in print onto their existing phonological and semantic representations, children learning EAL may be encountering both the spoken and written form of a new word simultaneously. In contrast, while non-phonological oral language skills may be weak in this cohort, phonological skills may be a relative strength for children learning more than one language (e.g. Campbell & Sais, 1995; Kang, 2012; Marinova-Todd, Zhao, & Bernhardt, 2010; McBride-Chang & Kail, 2002) although this finding is not replicated in all studies (e.g. Geva & Zadeh, 2006; Lipka & Siegel, 2007; see Melby-Lervåg & Lervåg, 2014 for a review) and these skills have been shown to develop at a similar rate in monolingual and bilingual children (e.g. Limbird, Maluch, Rjosk, Stanat, & Merkens, 2014). Moreover, it should be noted that the similarity between the languages the children are exposed to may affect the degree to which bilingualism may produce an advantage in phonological processing (e.g. Bialystock, Majumder, & Martin, 2003; Loizou & Stuart, 2003). Nonetheless, this profile of literacy and language skills could lead to strong word reading skills but poorer reading comprehension, a pattern that has been found in the literature (Babayigit, 2014, 2015; Burgoyne, Kelly, Whiteley, & Spooner, 2009; Burgoyne, Whiteley, & Hutchinson, 2011, 2013; Hutchinson, Whiteley, Smith, & Connors, 2003; Lesaux, Crosson, Kieffer, & Pierce, 2010) although not consistently (e.g. Lesaux, Rupp, & Siegel, 2007; Lesaux & Siegel, 2003; Limbird et al., 2014). Moreover, Manis, Lindsey, and Bailey (2004) suggested that differences in reading comprehension may not be apparent at the early stages of learning to read in a second language (L2). Their sample of young Spanish-speaking bilinguals showed similar levels of performance on measures of Spanish and English reading comprehension at US Grade 2 and only slight differences in performance at Grade 1.

Research exploring reading development in monolingual and bilingual children has found similar predictors of decoding in both groups (e.g. Chiappe & Siegel, 2006; McBride-Chang & Kail, 2002; Muter & Diethelm, 2001). Similarly, as with monolingual children, research looking at predictors of reading comprehension in bilingual children has found oral language to be a significant predictor of reading comprehension in most studies (e.g. Babayigit, 2014, 2015; Lesaux, Crosson, Kieffer, & Pierce, 2010; Lesaux et al., 2007; Proctor, Carlo, August, & Snow, 2005). Indeed, Kieffer (2012) carried out an analysis of longitudinal data collected from Spanish-speaking English language learners in the US and found that English productive vocabulary was the strongest predictor of English reading comprehension when compared to other measures of oral language. However, not all of these studies directly compared second language learners with their monolingual peers (e.g. Kieffer, 2012; Lesaux et al., 2010; Proctor et al., 2005) and as such have not explored the relative importance of oral language to reading comprehension in children from different language backgrounds. Some studies have found that oral language is a stronger predictor of reading comprehension in second language learners compared to monolingual children although the majority of these have not been carried out in the UK (e.g. Droop & Verhoeven, 2003; Lervåg & Aukrust, 2010; Limbird et al., 2014). In one recent UK study, Babayigit (2014) found that oral language was a significant predictor of reading comprehension in both monolingual and bilingual English-speaking children. However, she also found a marginally stronger association between oral language and reading comprehension in the bilingual children in her sample. Conversely, in a later study, Babayigit (2015) found no significant difference in the strength of association between oral language and reading comprehension, although there was a tendency for this association to be stronger in the EAL group. More studies are needed that directly compare the development of EAL and monolingual children in a UK context. Similarly the majority of these studies include children aged 5 years and over at the first point of testing, with many studies in the UK focusing on children in Year 2 and above (Babayigit, 2014, 2015; Burgoyne et al., 2009, 2011, 2013; Hutchinson et al., 2003). Children begin reading instruction in the UK at approximately 4 years of age. It is important to note that in the UK there is considerable emphasis on systematic phonics instruction at the early stages of learning to read, precipitated by the publication of the Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading (Rose, 2006) and reinforced by the introduction in 2012 of a statutory check of decoding skills for all 6-year olds in UK primary classrooms (Department for Education, 2012a). Research suggests that instructional practices directly influence the cognitive skills children utilise during reading (McGeown, Johnston & Medford, 2012). More research is therefore needed investigating early reading and comprehension skills in this cohort within the context of a phonics led curriculum of early reading instruction in UK classrooms.

Recent reports suggest that a large proportion of monolingual English-speaking children are also starting school in the UK with poor oral language (e.g. Bercow, 2008; Law, Todd, Clark, Mroz, & Carr, 2013; Lee, 2013). These children are at risk of difficulties with literacy development (see Pennington & Bishop, 2009 for a review) and educational underachievement much like their EAL peers. However, the nature and aetiology of their language difficulties may be different. While some children learning EAL will have existing language impairments, for many their weaknesses in English may be largely attributed to the challenge of learning a second language. Conversely, the problems facing monolingual children with language weaknesses may be attributed to other factors such as a language delay, a language impairment and/or low socio-economic status (SES; e.g. Clegg, Law, Rush, Peters, & Roulstone, 2015). These children form an important comparison group since EAL children are often put on the Special Educational Needs register (Stow & Dodd, 2003; Sullivan, 2011) and may receive similar instruction and intervention to their monolingual peers with language weaknesses whether or not they have underlying language problems. Given the difference in aetiology of the language difficulties of many EAL children, this may not be appropriate, and it is important to tease these groups apart in order to ensure children receive the most appropriate support. 041b061a72


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