Cognitive Skill Transfer in English Reading Acquisition: Alphabetic and Logographic Languages Compared


The purpose of this article is to review published studies regarding acquisition of English as a second or foreign language by students of different linguistic backgrounds, in light of the English language’s opaque alphabetic orthography. This review focuses on the contribution of first language cognitive skills (orthographic knowledge, phonological awareness, and morphological awareness) in native speakers of languages with alphabetic and logographic orthographies, to English second-language reading skills (word reading and reading comprehension), to better understand the contribution of cognitive reading skills in alphabetic and logographic languages to the acquisition of English reading skills as a second language. The author examines findings in the context of second-language learning theories, and two contradictory hypotheses in particular—the linguistic interdependence hypothesis and the script-dependent hypothesis. The author finds that no consensus can be indicated as to the contribution of most native-language skills in alphabetic vs. logographic languages to the acquisition of second-language or foreign-language English reading, or even whether or not they are language-specific (script-dependent). The exception is phonological awareness in alphabetical orthographies (but not logographic orthographies) which received a consensus among researchers supporting its transfer from the native language to English as a second or foreign language.

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Shakkour, W. (2014) Cognitive Skill Transfer in English Reading Acquisition: Alphabetic and Logographic Languages Compared. Open Journal of Modern Linguistics, 4, 544-562. doi: 10.4236/ojml.2014.44048.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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