Reading and Writing

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 909–937 | Cite as

The phonological awareness relation to early reading in English for three groups of simultaneous bilingual children

  • Beth A. O’BrienEmail author
  • Malikka Begum Habib Mohamed
  • Nurul Taqiah Yussof
  • Siew Chin Ng


Phonological awareness is critical for early reading acquisition across alphabetic as well as non-alphabetic languages. The grain size of phonological awareness varies with oral language structure and written orthography across languages. Phonological awareness’ grain size and contribution to reading for simultaneous biliterate children is currently unknown. In this study, we examine syllable, rime and phoneme level awareness for bilingual children with differences in structure of their known languages in order to investigate any potential cross-language effects of their ethnic language on English reading. For 612 Chinese and English, Malay and English, and Tamil and English speakers in kindergarten, different patterns emerged across the language groups with regard to the grain size of phonological awareness over a 2-year period. The patterns of phonological awareness levels in predicting early English reading skills also differed amongst these bilingual language groups. The role of vocabulary in the relation between phonological awareness and reading was not consistent, showing small moderating and mediating effects only in some instances.


Phonological awareness Bilingual Reading Vocabulary Kindergarten 



This study was funded by the Education Research Funding Programme, National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Project No. OER 09/14RB. The views expressed in this paper are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of NIE. The authors would like to thank the participating children, parents and schools.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Research in Child Development, National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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