The effect of language specific factors on early written composition: the role of spelling, oral language and text generation skills in a shallow orthography

Abstract

Spelling skills have been identified as one of the major barriers to written text production in young English writers. By contrast oral language skills and text generation have been found to be less influential in the texts produced by beginning writers. To date, our understanding of the role of spelling skills in transparent orthographies is limited. The current study addressed this gap by examining the contribution of spelling, oral language and text generation skills in written text production in Italian beginner writers. Eighty-three children aged 7–8 years participated in the study. Spelling, lexical retrieval, receptive grammar, and written sentence generation and reformulation skills were assessed and children were asked to write a text on a set topic. A factor analysis revealed that the children’s written text production was captured by three factors: productivity, complexity and accuracy. In contrast to results from children learning to write in opaque orthographies, such as English, this study showed that receptive grammar and written sentence generation skills accounted for significant variance in measures of productivity, complexity and accuracy in Italian children’s written text production. Spelling skills contributed to text accuracy and quality and explained more variance than receptive grammar in microstructural accuracy. By contrast, oral grammatical skills explained more variance in text quality than spelling. The current study shows the differential impact of language systems, such as Italian, on written text production. Implications for assessment and instruction are outlined.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by MIUR—PRIN 2006 Grant Nos. 111929 and ISCH COST Action IS1401. The authors wish to thank Magali Boureux and Francesca Poeta for their help in scoring the texts having coded the texts for inter-rater agreement.

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Arfé, B., Dockrell, J.E. & De Bernardi, B. The effect of language specific factors on early written composition: the role of spelling, oral language and text generation skills in a shallow orthography. Read Writ 29, 501–527 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9617-5

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Keywords

  • Writing development
  • Spelling
  • Text generation
  • Lexical retrieval
  • And grammatical skills