, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 325-348

Spelling acquisition of novel English phonemes in Chinese children

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Abstract

This two-year, longitudinal study compared thespelling development of two novel Englishphonemes (/∫/ and /θ/) among 35Cantonese-speaking primary level childrenlearning English as a second language (ESL) and37 English-speaking (L1) children.Developmental trend analyses suggest a similardevelopmental trajectory of spelling levelsacross time for ESL and L1 children. However,the spelling errors of the Chinese ESL childrenreflected difficulty in representing phonemesthat are absent in Cantonese phonology, andthis difficulty is not merely at theorthographic level. Poor phonologicalrepresentation of the phoneme /θ/ of ESLchildren was also reflected in an auditorydiscrimination task. Nevertheless, thisnegative transfer did not persist across time.By the time they reached the end of grade 2,the performance of ESL children was very closeto that of L1 children. A causal relationshipis shown via cross-lagged correlations betweenauditory discrimination and spellingperformance for both L1 and ESL children. Theseresults suggest an interactive relationshipbetween a general development of phonologicaland orthographic knowledge and an L1 transfereffect in second language spellingacquisition.