How long do the advantages of learning to read a transparent orthography last? An investigation of the reading skills and reading impairment of Welsh children at 10 years of age

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Spencer and Hanley (2003) showed that Welsh-speaking children aged between 5 and 7 years who were learning to read Welsh (a transparent orthography) performed significantly better at reading both real words and nonwords than did English-speaking children living in Wales who were learning to read English (a deep orthography). In this study, the reading skills of these children were reexamined three years later, during their sixth year of formal reading instruction. The children learning to read English continued to perform poorly at reading low- and medium-frequency irregular words but no differences were observed in reading regular words or nonwords. These findings emphasize how long it takes to acquire a large sight vocabulary in English, but indicated that the reading skills of the majority of the English-speaking children had caught up with those of their Welsh-speaking counterparts. However, the poorest 25% of the English readers continued to perform much worse than the lowest performing 25% of Welsh readers on both words and nonwords. An underachieving tail of this kind was not observed in the reading performance of the Welsh-speaking group. Overall, these findings suggest that in the long term the detrimental effects of an opaque orthography are most damaging to the poorest readers.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Essex Colchester UK 2: University of Wales Bangor UK

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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