Reading and Writing

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 1109–1132 | Cite as

The challenge and the opportunity of lexical inferencing in language minority students

  • Daphna Shahar-Yames
  • Anat Prior


Lexical inferencing from text is a powerful tool for vocabulary and reading comprehension enhancement. Lexical inferencing relies on the pre-requisite skills of reading and existing vocabulary, and is also linked to non-verbal inferencing abilities and reading comprehension. In this study, we examined whether Fifth-grade Russian-speaking language minority (LM) students might exhibit reduced lexical inferencing abilities in comparison to their native Hebrew-speaking (NH) peers, due to their reduced proficiency in the societal language. Participants completed a measure of lexical inferencing during text reading, and measures of underlying skills, including vocabulary, word reading accuracy, reading comprehension and non-verbal inferencing. As a group, LM students demonstrated comparable lexical inferencing abilities to those of their NH peers despite significantly lower vocabulary knowledge in vocabulary. Two explanations are suggested; first, although LM students had reduced vocabulary, they were nonetheless above the vocabulary threshold required for text comprehension. Second, the regression analyses revealed that non-verbal inferencing explained unique variance only in the LM group, demonstrating that they recruited language-external resources to support lexical inferencing. The current results show that lexical inferencing can serve as a powerful tool for promoting reading comprehension and vocabulary, domains that are points of weakness for language minority students.


Language minority Lexical inferencing Reading comprehension Vocabulary 



The authors thank Shira Bleicher, Moran Hatan and Ina Kandelis for research assistance and Nashchon Korem for help in data analyses. The current study was partly supported by the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities.


  1. August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language-minority children and youth. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  2. Bengeleil, N., & Paribakht, T. (2004). L2 reading proficiency and lexical inferencing by university EFL learners. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61(2), 225–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bialystok, E., Luk, G., Peets, K. F., & Yang, S. (2010). Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13(4), 525–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, L., Sherbenou, R. J., & Johnsen, S. K. (1982). Test of nonverbal intelligence: A language-free measure of cognitive ability [Form A]. Austin, TX: Pro-ed.Google Scholar
  5. Bryant, B. R., & Wiederholt, J. L. (1991). Gray oral reading tests-diagnostic. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.Google Scholar
  6. Cain, K., Oakhill, J. V., Barnes, M. A., & Bryant, P. E. (2001). Comprehension skill, inference-making ability, and their relation to knowledge. Memory & Cognition, 29(6), 850–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cain, K., Oakhill, J., & Bryant, P. (2004). Children’s reading comprehension ability: Concurrent prediction by working memory, verbal ability, and component skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cain, K., Oakhill, J. V., & Elbro, C. (2003). The ability to learn new word meanings from context by school-age children with and without language comprehension difficulties. Journal of Child Language, 30(3), 681–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1991). Tracking the unique effects of print exposure in children: Associations with vocabulary, general knowledge, and spelling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(2), 264–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. De Bot, K., Paribakht, T. S., & Wesche, M. B. (1997). Toward a lexical processing model for the study of second language vocabulary acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19(3), 309–329.Google Scholar
  11. Droop, M., & Verhoeven, L. (2003). Language proficiency and reading ability in first- and second- language learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(1), 78–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dunn, L. M. (1965). Expanded manual for the Peabody picture vocabulary test. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  13. Elgort, I., Perfetti, C. A., Rickles, B., & Stafura, J. Z. (2015). Contextual learning of L2 word meanings: second language proficiency modulates behavioural and event-related brain potential (ERP) indicators of learning. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30(5), 506–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Elgort, I., & Warren, P. (2014). L2 vocabulary learning from reading: Explicit and tacit lexical knowledge and the role of learner and item variables. Language Learning, 64(2), 365–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Farnia, F., & Geva, E. (2011). Cognitive correlates of vocabulary growth in English language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32(4), 711–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Farnia, F., & Geva, E. (2013). Growth and predictors of change in English language learners’ reading comprehension. Journal of Research in Reading, 36(4), 389–421.Google Scholar
  17. Geva, E. (2006). Second-language oral proficiency and second-language literacy. In D. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language-minority children and youth (pp. 123–139). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  18. Geva, E., Galili, K., Katzir, T., & Shany, M. (2017). Learning novel words by ear or by eye? An advantage for lexical inferencing in listening versus reading narratives in fourth grade. Reading and Writing, 30(9), 1917–1944.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Geva, E., & Massey-Garrison, A. (2013). A comparison of the language skills of ELLs and monolinguals who are poor decoders, poor comprehenders, or normal readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 46(5), 387–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Geva, E., & Wiener, J. (2015). Psychological assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse children and adolescents. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haastrup, K. (1991). Lexical inferencing procedures, or, talking about words: Receptive procedures in foreign language learning with special reference to English (Vol. 14). Germany, Tübingen: Günter Narr Verlag.Google Scholar
  23. Henriksen, B. (1999). Three dimensions of vocabulary development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 21(2), 303–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Heppt, B., Haag, N., Böhme, K., & Stanat, P. (2015). The role of academic-language features for reading comprehension of language-minority students and students from low-SES families. Reading Research Quarterly, 50(1), 61–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hoover, A., & Gough, P. B. (1990). The simple view of reading. Reading and Writing, 2, 127–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hsueh-Chao, M. H., & Nation, P. (2000). Unknown vocabulary density and reading comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 13(1), 403–430.Google Scholar
  27. Jean, M., & Geva, E. (2009). The development of vocabulary in English as a second language children and its role in predicting word recognition ability. Applied Psycholinguistics, 30, 153–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jenkins, J. R., & Dixon, R. (1983). Vocabulary learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3), 237–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kame’enui, E. J., & Baumann, J. F. (2012). Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. Kavé, G. (2005). Standardization and norms for a Hebrew naming test. Brain and Language, 92(2), 204–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kavé, G. (2006). The development of naming and word fluency: Evidence from Hebrew-speaking children between ages 8 and 17. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29(3), 493–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kieffer, M. J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2007). Breaking down words to build meaning: Morphology, vocabulary, and reading comprehension in the urban classroom. The Reading Teacher, 61(2), 134–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kieffer, M. J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2012). Knowledge of words, knowledge about words: Dimensions of vocabulary in first and second language learners in sixth grade. Reading and Writing, 25(2), 347–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kieffer, M. J., & Vukovic, R. K. (2012). Components and context: Exploring sources of reading difficulties for language minority learners and native English speakers in urban schools. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(5), 433–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Landauer, T. K., & Dumais, S. T. (1997). A solution to Plato’s problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of acquisition, induction, and representation of knowledge. Psychological Review, 104(2), 211–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Laufer, B. (1989). What percentage of text-lexis is essential for comprehension? In C. Lauren & M. Nordmann (Eds.), Special Language: From humans thinking to thinking machines (pp. 316–323). New Zealand, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  37. Laufer, B., & Goldstein, Z. (2004). Testing vocabulary knowledge: Size, strength, and computer adaptiveness. Language Learning, 54(3), 399–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lesaux, K., Crosson, A., Kieffer, M. J., & Pierce, M. (2010). Uneven profiles: Language minority learners’ word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension skills. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(6), 475–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lesaux, K., & Kieffer, M. J. (2010). Exploring sources of reading comprehension difficulties among language minority learners and their classmates in early adolescence. American Educational Research Journal, 47(3), 596–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lesaux, K., Koda, K., Siegel, L., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Development of literacy. In D. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language-minority children and youth (pp. 75–149). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  41. Luk, G., Mesite, L., Leon Guerrero, S., & Christodoulou, J. (2015). Reading outcomes in children with diverse language backgrounds. In Present at the International Bilingualism Symposium 10, May 2024, New Brunswick, NJ.Google Scholar
  42. Marx, A. E., & Stanat, P. (2011). Reading comprehention of immigrant students in Germany: research evidence on determinats and target points for intervention. Reading and Writing, 25(8), 1929–1945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McKeown, M. G. (1985). The acquisition of word meaning from context by children of high and low ability. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 482–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McKeown, M. G. (2014). The nature of vocabulary acquisition. New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  45. Melby-Lervåg, M., & Lervåg, A. (2014). Reading comprehension and its underlying components in second-language learners: A meta-analysis of studies comparing first-and second-language learners. Psychological Bulletin, 140(2), 409–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nagy, W. E., & Anderson, R. C. (1984). How many words are there in printed school English? Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 304–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nagy, W. E., Herman, P. A., & Anderson, R. C. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 233–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Nassaji, H. (2006). The relationship between depth of vocabulary knowledge and L2 learners’ lexical inferencing strategy use and success. The Modern Language Journal, 90(3), 387–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nation, K. (2005). Children’s reading comprehension difficulties. In M. J. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds.), The science of reading: A handbook. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  50. Nation, I. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(1), 59–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Oetting, J. B., Rice, M. L., & Swank, L. K. (1995). Quick incidental learning (QUIL) of words by school-age children with and without SLI. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 38(2), 434–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Oller, D. K., Pearson, B. Z., & Cobo-Lewis, A. B. (2007). Profile effects in early bilingual language and literacy. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28(2), 191–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Paribakht, T. S., & Wesche, M. (1999). Reading and “incidental” L2 vocabulary acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 21(2), 195–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pasquarella, A., Gottardo, A., & Grant, A. (2012). Comparing factors related to reading comprehension in adolescents who speak English as first (L1) or second (L2) language. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(6), 475–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Perfetti, C. H. (2007). Reading ability: Lexical quality to comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11(4), 357–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Perfetti, C. H., Landi, N., & Oakhill, J. (2005). The acquisition of reading comprehension skill. In M. J. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds.), The science of reading: A handbook (pp. 227–247). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pressley, M., Disney, L., & Anderson, K. (2007). Landmark vocabulary instructional research and the vocabulary instructional research that makes sense now. In R. K. Wagner, A. E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 205–232). New York, NY: Gilford Press.Google Scholar
  58. Prior, A., Goldina, A., Shany, M., Geva, E., & Katzir, T. (2014). Lexical inference in L2: Predictive roles of vocabulary knowledge and reading skill beyond reading comprehension. Reading and Writing, 27(8), 1467–1484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pulido, D. (2007). The relationship between text comprehension and second language incidental vocabulary acquisition: A matter of topic familiarity? Language Learning, 57(1), 155–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Report for the Office of Education Research and Improvement (OERI). Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
  61. Ricketts, J., Bishop, D. V., Pimperton, H., & Nation, K. (2011). The role of self-teaching in learning orthographic and semantic aspects of new words. Scientific Studies of Reading, 15(1), 47–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schmitt, N., Jiang, X., & Grabe, W. (2011). The percentage of words known in a text and reading comprehension. The Modern Language Journal, 95(1), 26–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schwartz, M., & Katzir, T. (2011). Depth of lexical knowledge among bilingual children: The impact of schooling. Reading and Writing, 25(8), 1947–1971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Schwartz, M., Kozminsky, E., & Leikin, M. (2009). Delayed acquisition of irregular inflectional morphology in Hebrew in early sequential bilingualism. International Journal of Bilingualism, 13(4), 501–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shahar-Yames, D., & Prior, A. (2017). Reading development in upper elementary language minority readers of Hebrew: The specific challenge of fluency. Reading and Writing, 30(5), 1065–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shany, M., Lachman, D., Shalem, Z., Bahat, A., & Zeiger, T. (2006). Aleph-Taph: An assessment system of reading and writing disabilities. Tel Aviv: Yesod Publishing.Google Scholar
  67. Shefelbine, J. L. (1990). Student factors related to variability in learning word meanings from context. Journal of Literacy Research, 22(1), 71–97.Google Scholar
  68. Shiotsu, T., & Weir, C. J. (2007). The relative significance of syntactic knowledge and vocabulary breadth in the prediction of reading comprehension test performance. Language Testing, 24(1), 99–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Solberg, S., & Nevo, B. (1979). Initial steps towards an Israeli standardization of the Peabody Picture: Vocabulary Test PPVT. Megamot, 24(3), 407–413.Google Scholar
  70. Spencer, M., & Wagner, R. K. (2017). The comprehension problems for second-language learners with poor reading comprehension despite adequate decoding: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Reading, 40(2), 199–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sternberg, R. J. (1987). Most vocabulary is learned from context. In M. G. McKeown & M. E. Curtis (Eds.), The nature of vocabulary acquisition (pp. 89–115). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  73. Swanborn, M., & De Glopper, K. (2002). Impact of reading purpose on incidental word learning from context. Language Learning, 52(1), 95–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Takacs, Z. K., Swart, E. K., & Bus, A. G. (2015). Benefits and pitfalls of multimedia and interactive features in technology-enhanced storybooks: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 85(4), 698–739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Walters, J., Armon-Lotem, S., Altman, C., Topaj, N., & Gagarina, N. (2014). Language proficiency and social identity in Russian-Hebrew and Russian-German preschool children. In R. K. Silbereisen, F. Titzmann, & Y. Shavit (Eds.), The challenges of diaspora migration: Interdisciplinary perspectives on Israel and Germany (pp. 45–62). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  76. Webb, S. (2010). A corpus driven study of the potential for vocabulary learning through watching movies. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 15(4), 497–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wesche, M. B., & Paribakht, T. (2009). Lexical inferencing in a first and second language: Cross-linguistic dimensions. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  78. Zeltsman-Kulick, R., Katzir, T., & Prior, A. (2018) English reading comprehension of adolescent Hebrew speakers learning English as foreign language. (in progress).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Learning Disabilities and Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Faculty of EducationUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael

Personalised recommendations