Phonological specificity relates to phonological awareness and reading ability in English–French bilingual children
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The 1-year longitudinal study presented here examined the extent to which the ability to build phonologically specific lexical entries as a result of increasing vocabulary size predicts word reading via its impact on phonological awareness within and across languages in 62 emerging English (L1) and French (L2) Grade 1 children (M = 75.69 months, SD = 3.18) enrolled in an early French immersion program in Canada. Lexical specificity was assessed with a computerized word learning game in which children were taught new English (e.g., ‘foal’ and ‘sole’) and French (e.g., bac ‘bin’ and bague ‘ring’) word pairs contrasted by minimal phonological differences. The results revealed that the specificity of English words at the beginning of Grade 1 predicted English word reading at the end of Grade 1 and that this relationship was mediated by English phonological awareness at the beginning of Grade 1. French lexical specificity at the beginning of Grade 1 did not predict French word reading at the end of Grade 1. Notably, English lexical specificity at the beginning of Grade 1 also predicted French word reading at the end of Grade 1 and this relationship was mediated by English phonological awareness at the beginning of Grade 1. It is concluded that exposure to word pairs involving minimal phonological contrasts fosters phonological awareness, which in turn facilitates word reading within the L1 that then transfers to the L2.
KeywordsDynamic assessment Early identification French immersion Lexical specificity Linguistic transfer Phonological awareness Second language learning
This research was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant (to X.C.). Opinions reflect those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agency. The author(s) had no financial or other conflicts of interest. A special thank you to Dr. Esther Geva, Dr. Alexandra Gottardo, and Alexandra Bellissimo for their invaluable guidance and support throughout the project. This research would not have been possible without the support of the teachers, parents, and children at our partner schools, in addition to all of the research assistants of the Multilingualism and Literacy Lab.
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