Universal and language-specific predictors of early word reading in a foreign language: An analysis of the skills that underlie reading acquisition in three different orthographies.

A central question in the field of foreign language acquisition is whether the processes involved in reading development in a foreign language are universal or dependent on characteristics of the specific language involved. We investigated the impact of orthographic depth and writing system on word reading acquisition in a foreign orthography, by studying children who are proficient readers in the transparent alphabetic Dutch orthography and who learn to read simultaneously in the transparent alphabetic Spanish orthography, the nontransparent alphabetic French orthography and the nonalphabetic Chinese orthography. Results showed that the skills that underlie foreign language word reading are not universal, but are different for alphabetic and nonalphabetic orthographies, and are also different for transparent and nontransparent alphabetic orthographies, albeit to a lesser extent. Word reading acquisition in transparent alphabetic Spanish depended mainly on reading skills in the native language. In contrast, in nontransparent alphabetic French and nonalphabetic Chinese, word reading was mainly influenced by cognitive skills: French word reading by phonological awareness and verbal intelligence, and Chinese word reading by verbal and nonverbal intelligence. Findings thus suggest that the processes underlying foreign language word reading acquisition are not universal but rather depend on the specific language involved. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)