Relative Contributions of Phonological Awareness and Orthographic Knowledge to the Reading Proficiency of Chinese Students Learning English as a Foreign Language



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Phonological awareness and orthographic knowledge have been shown in the literature as the two most important precursor skills underlying word identification, which is in turn integral to reading comprehension. Despite the vast population of people learning English as a foreign language (EFL), reading research with this ever expanding group is not as well established compared with that conducted with native speakers and English as a second language (ESL) learners. Questions remain as to whether EFL students rely more on phonological awareness or orthographic knowledge in the course of word identification. It is equally unclear which of them explains a greater portion of unique variance in reading comprehension. In view of the critical role of word identification in reading comprehension, it is imperative to investigate how EFL students recognize words in print, which is a prerequisite for effective understanding of text. The focus of this study was to examine the relative contributions of phonological awareness and word-specific orthographic knowledge to the English reading proficiency of 122 Chinese students learning EFL in Hong Kong (Grade 7). In addition to exploring the influence of these two foundational skills on word identification, their effect on reading comprehension was also investigated. Results indicated that word-specific orthographic knowledge accounted for a larger share of variance in both word identification and reading comprehension. Most importantly, even after the effect of phonological awareness was controlled for, it still explained unique significant variance in the two outcome variables. Educational implications were discussed with respect to reading instruction for EFL students with a logographic L1 background.



Learning English as a Second Language, Foreign language learning, Learning, Phonological awareness, Orthographic Knowledge, Word Identification, Reading comprehension