Phonology, orthography, and morphology in english word reading: The influence of proficiency and ethnic background

Year: 2012

Author: Zhang, Dongbo, Li, Li, Chin, Chern Far, Bari, Mohammed Khalid, Pang, Elizabeth, Koda, Keiko, Leong, Che Kan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: This study examined the role of phonology, orthography, and morphology in reading English derived words among bilingual children who possessed different levels of oral English proficiency and came from different ethnic language backgrounds.

Method: Participants were Grade 3 Singporean children (N = 377) who were learning to read concurrently in English as well as their ethnic language. They included two ethnic language groups who spoke Chinese and Malay, respectively. Children in each ethnic group were further divided into three oral proficiency groups based on their English teachers' rating that followed a standard rating rubric. Children were measured in English phonological awareness, orthographic processing skill, derivational awareness, as well as reading aloud of derived words, in addition to receptive oral vocabulary and non-verbal intelligence.

Results: Results of ANCOVA, with vocabulary and non-verbal intelligence as covariates, showed a significant main effect of oral proficiency (high > middle > low) as well as ethnic language background (Malay > Chinese) on word reading, with no significant interaction effect. Hierarchical regression analyses, controlling for vocabulary and intelligence, further revealed that across proficiency levels and ethnic groups, there were differences as well as similarities in the relationships of phonology, orthography, and morphology to English reading. Specifically, for both ethnic groups, phonology was as a significant predictor of word reading for the low and middle proficiency groups but not the high groups; orthography signifciantly predicted word reading for the low groups only. Morphology significantly predicted word reading in the middle and high-proficiency Chinese groups, but not the low Chinese group; however, for Malay children, morphology was consistently a significant predictor of word reading across all three proficiency levels.

Conclusion: These results suggest that oral proficiency and ethnic language experience could moderate how orthography, phonology, and morphology predict the reading of complex English words.