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Contributions of word-level and verbal skills to written expression: comparison of learners who speak English as a first (L1) and second language (L2)

Abstract

The study investigated the role of word-level and verbal skills in writing quality of learners who spoke English as a first (L1) and second (L2) language. One hundred and sixty-eight L1 and L2 learners (M = 115.38 months, SD = 3.57 months) participated in the study. All testing was conducted in English. There was a statistically significant L1 advantage on the measures of writing quality and verbal skills (i.e., vocabulary, verbal working memory, and semantic fluency) but not on word-level skills (i.e., spelling and word reading). Results from the multi-sample structural equation modeling analysis showed that the word-level and verbal skills made independent contributions to writing quality of L1 and L2 learners and the strength of these relationships was invariant (equivalent) across the two samples. The educational implications of research on L2 learners who are learning to write in a majority language were discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. It is important to note that there is a significant body of research on biliterate bilingual learners’ writing development in their first and second languages and related cross-linguistic influences (for reviews, see Berman & Verhoeven, 2002; Fitzgerald, 2006; Zecker, 2004). Within the context of the present study, the focus was on L2 learners who were learning to write in a majority language.

  2. The analysis was repeated by fixing the verbal working memory or semantic fluency intercepts to be equal across the two language groups, which yielded a marginally nonsignificant model fit difference for verbal working memory, Δχ 2 (1) = 2.140, p = .144, ΔCFI = .002, and a statistically significant model fit difference for semantic fluency, Δχ 2 (1) = 2.303, p = .129, ΔCFI = .003. Hence, verbal working memory seems to have also contributed to the language group differences in writing quality levels but its effect was smaller than that of vocabulary knowledge.

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Acknowledgments

The study was supported by a grant from the University of the West of England (Bristol), awarded to the author. The author thanks Professors Robin Means, Sue Roulstone, Jeanine Treffers-Daller, and Dr. Amanda Longley for their support of the study, and Hardeep Adams, Chris Chant, and Jessica Parry for their assistance with the data entry and scoring. Special thanks also go the children and teachers who participated.

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See Table 4.

Table 4 Mean differences between the L1 and L2 samples

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Babayiğit, S. Contributions of word-level and verbal skills to written expression: comparison of learners who speak English as a first (L1) and second language (L2). Read Writ 27, 1207–1229 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-013-9482-z

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Keywords

  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • English as a second language
  • Multi-sample structural equation modeling