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Supporting data for "early literacy acquisition in Chinese-English bilinguals: the cognitive-linguistic processes and cross-language transfer"

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posted on 2024-05-21, 01:14 authored by Hoi Dick WongHoi Dick Wong, Shih Ju Lucy HsuShih Ju Lucy Hsu

Chinese word reading is a very complicated process for young children because of its complex orthographic features and the inconsistent orthography-phonology correspondence of the characters. However, whether emergent readers rely on the same metalinguistic and executive functioning skills in reading single-character (i.e., character recognition) and two-character words (i.e., word reading) is still unknown. Furthermore, Chinese children learning to read in English, a script that is fundamentally different from those of Chinese, may have to rely on the same or different sets of metalinguistic skills. While some studies have suggested that second language learners may bring their existing first language (L1) knowledge to learning to read a second language (L2), whether and how early Chinese-English bilingual readers utilized L1 skills in reading English as an L2 remains elusive.

Study 1 investigated whether and how executive functioning and metalinguistic skills contribute differently to character recognition and word reading among native Chinese-speaking emergent readers. A total of 125 preschool children (Mean age = 71.9 months, SD = 3.9) were administered a series of measures, including character recognition, word reading, phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, morphological awareness, working memory, inhibitory control, and attentional control. Pair-sample t-tests demonstrated that children performed significantly better on character recognition than word reading. Orthographic knowledge and working memory contributed uniquely to character and word reading after controlling for the effects of age, non-verbal intelligence, and vocabulary knowledge. In contrast, only phonological processing and inhibitory control explained additional unique variance in word reading.

Study 2 examined the unique contributions of Chinese metalinguistic skills and executive functioning skills in English L2 word recognition in early Chinese ESL learners. A total of 102 preschool children (mean age = 65 months, SD = 3.8) were administered with the same measures of Chinese phonological skills, orthographic knowledge, morphological awareness, and non-verbal IQ used in Study 1. Additionally, English word reading and vocabulary knowledge were also included in Study 2. Results demonstrated that Chinese orthographic knowledge contributed to English L2 word reading above and beyond age, IQ, English vocabulary knowledge, and even EF skills. On top of that, mediation analysis revealed that working memory contributed to English L2 word reading indirectly via Chinese orthographic knowledge.


Overall, these results highlighted that early character recognition and word reading development constitute somewhat different cognitive-linguistic processes and suggested that character recognition, with fewer contextual cues than word reading, requires a narrower focus on visual-orthographic skills and precise memorization of the character. Given the high ratio of homographs and lexical compounding natures in Chinese words, syllable awareness and inhibitory control are essential to resolve such ambiguity and suppress other irrelevant morphemes in the mental representation to retrieve the proper pronunciations of the words. On the other hand, the finding also suggested that Chinese-English bilingual readers decode English words via the lexical route instead of the phonological route that relies more on phonemic awareness due to the differences in the writing system and the rote-learning teaching method in Hong Kong, while working memory supported the visual discrimination and analytic skills embedded in orthographic knowledge that facilitated L2 word reading.

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