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Reading, syntactic, and working memory skills of bilingual Portuguese-English Canadian children

Abstract

The purpose of the study was to examine the nature of language, memory, and reading skills of bilingual students and to determine the relationship between reading problems in English and reading problems in Portuguese. The study assessed the reading, language, and memory skills of 37 bilingual Portuguese-Canadian children, aged 9–12 years. English was their main instructional language and Portuguese was the language spoken at home. All children attended a Heritage Language Program at school where they were taught to read and write Portuguese. The children were administered word and pseudoword reading, language, and working memory tasks in English and Portuguese. The majority of the children (67%) showed at least average proficiency in both languages. The children who had low reading scores in English also had significantly lower scores on the Portuguese tasks. There was a significant relationship between the acquisition of word and pseudoword reading, working memory, and syntactic awareness skills in the two languages. The Portuguese-Canadian children who were normally achieving readers did not differ from a comparison group of monolingual English speaking normally achieving readers except that the bilingual children had significantly lower scores on the English syntactic awareness task. The bilingual reading disabled children had similar scores to the monolingual reading disabled children on word reading and working memory but lower scores on the syntactic awareness task. However, the bilingual reading disabled children had significantlyhigher scores than the monolingual English speaking reading disabled children on the English pseudoword reading test and the English spelling task, perhaps reflecting a positive transfer from the more regular grapheme phoneme conversion rules of Portuguese. In this case, bilingualism does not appear to have negative consequences for the development of reading skills. In both English and Portuguese, reading difficulties appear to be strongly related to deficits in phonological processing.

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Correspondence to Linda S. Siegel.

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Da Fontoura, H.A., Siegel, L.S. Reading, syntactic, and working memory skills of bilingual Portuguese-English Canadian children. Read Writ 7, 139–153 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01026951

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Key words

  • Bilingualism
  • Reading disability
  • Reading in Portuguese