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Morphological representation and reading comprehension in early elementary English language learners O'Toole, Gillian Laura


Reading is a complex cognitive-linguistic endeavor involving multiple levels of linguistic knowledge. The relative contribution of different levels of linguistic awareness may depend on the individual linguistic processes of a child’s linguistic background. A child learning English as a second language may face differences as they become proficient in their educational language which is essential for academic success. The purpose of the study is to gain insight into the various levels of linguistic knowledge associated with reading comprehension in children who are English language learners (ELLs). This study examined morphological knowledge in relation to reading comprehension between grade two students who learned English as first language (EL1) and ELLs. The participants completed tasks of English phonological awareness, word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Further, the participants were assessed on their knowledge of English morphology through an experimental task based on a distributed connectionist approach: the Morphological Awareness Semantic Task (MAST). This task requires students to process sentences with different morphological and semantic conditions: form only, low semantic, moderate semantic, high semantic, and semantic only. No significant differences between language groups on any measures were found, except on receptive vocabulary. Statistically significant correlations were found between phonological awareness and word reading for the ELL group, and between word reading and reading comprehension in the EL1 group, but not between morphological representations and reading. In an analysis of the five different MAST conditions, the groups did not display any statistically significant differences between them, with some notable differences: the EL1 group tended to score higher than the ELL group on all conditions, except for the high semantic condition. The overall findings of the current study suggest that ELLs are able to achieve similar scores in reading comprehension to that of native English speakers, with minor differences in their morphological representations of English words. Despite having a smaller vocabulary size than native English speaking students, ELLs appear to be relying on different linguistic skills to decode and derive meaning in a morphologically complex task.

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