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L1 orthography and ESL literacy : a comparison of English, Persian, and Chinese L1 speakers Low, Pauline B.


Orthographies vary in how sounds are translated to print. Alphabetic orthographies utilize grapheme-phoneme correspondences, whereas nonalphabetic orthographies do not. The present study examined whether learning to read and spell in English as a second language was influenced by the learner's first language. The participants were 122 third-grade children (mean age: 8.88 years) with contrasting linguistic backgrounds. The sample was comprised of 45 children who's native language was English (alphabetic), 32 ESL children who's native language was Persian (alphabetic) and 45 ESL children who's native language was Chinese (nonalphabetic). The performance of the three groups was comparable on measures of reading, phonological awareness, decoding, working memory and spelling. However, the Chinese speakers scored significantly lower than the alphabetic speakers on measures of syntactic awareness and pseudoword spelling. Misspelling error analyses further revealed that although the Chinese speakers were as likely as the alphabetic speakers to produce misspellings that resembled target words in visual form and individual phonemes, they were less likely to produce misspellings that can be read to sound exactly like the target words. In addition, there was evidence for the importance of phonological reading skills, working memory and syntactic awareness in establishing a common model of spelling for children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Overall, the findings suggest that children learning to read and spell in English as a second language are not necessarily at a disadvantage even if the structure of their first language significantly differs from that of English. However, there may be qualitative differences strategies used to spell that are attributable to differences in grapheme-phoneme mapping experience.

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