Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies.

Seymour, P. H. K., Aro, M., & Erskine, J. M. (2003). Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies. British Journal of Psychology (London, England : 1953), 94(Pt 2), 143–174.

This paper examined potential differences in rates of reading acquisition among children acquiring different languages. The purpose was to investigate whether the orthographic depth of the language can affect early reading skills. For example, whether children acquiring deep orthographic languages such as English develop reading skills more slowly than children acquiring shallow orthographic languages such as Spanish or German. In investigations examining orthographic depth, however, the study authors argued for the importance of considering the syllabic complexity of the spoken language as well. That is, whether the language has a predominance of consonant-vowel (CV) syllables (and few clusters) such as Italian and Spanish, or numerous closed syllables (CVC) with complex consonant clusters (e.g., German, Danish, English).

The study investigated the relationship between early reading acquisition and the orthographic complexity of the language being learned. Particularly, the authors examined the effect of syllabic complexity and orthographic depth among European languages. The study compared the performance of grade 1 or 2 children (minimum group size = 28) who spoke English or one of 12 European languages in letter knowledge, familiar word reading, and simple non-word reading tasks. There was no evidence that orthographic depth or syllabic complexity was associated with letter knowledge. Orthographic depth but not syllabic complexity was associated with familiar word reading with greater depth leading to lower accuracy and reading speed. For simple nonword reading, there was evidence that both orthographic depth and syllabic complexity influenced performance. Nonwords were read more accurately and rapidly for languages with simple syllable structures, and those with relatively shallow orthographic depth. Interestingly, the children’s performance in several reading tasks was independent of the age at which children started formal schooling.

Overall, the results of this study indicated that children acquiring shallow orthographic languages became accurate and fluent in the foundation level of reading by the end of the first school year. In comparison, children acquiring deep orthographic languages, English in particular, developed reading skills more slowly and less effectively. Children acquiring English needed two more years to acquire the same level of accuracy and fluency as the majority of European languages.

Areej Balilah, PhD Candidate with Dr. Lisa Archibald

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