Learning to read and spell in Albanian, English and Welsh : the effect of orthographic transparency
Effects of orthographic transparency on literacy acquisition were examined by comparing data from children learning to read in Albanian, Welsh, and English. The Welsh and especially Albanian orthographies are extremely transparent, whereas the English orthography is notorious for its lack of transparency. In the pilot study, twenty Year I Albanian children were given a reading test consisting of a 100-word stratified sample of decreasing written frequency. These children were able to read accurately 80% of the words; reading latency was a direct effect of word length (R2 =. 89); and errors tended to be mispronunciations rather than real word replacements, with hardly any null responses. These results were compared with Ellis and Hooper (2001), where the same design was used with English and Welsh children of the same age, but with one more year of formal reading instruction. The Albanian children read more words than the English and Welsh children, but they had longer reading latencies. Like the Welsh children, but unlike the English children, the Albanian children made more nonword errors. These results suggest that children acquire reading faster the more transparent the orthography, and that shallow orthographies promote an initial reliance on a phonological recoding strategy. The main study examined reading, spelling, phonological and orthographic skills of 6-, 8- and 10-year old Albanian, English and Welsh children. No cross-language differences were found in reading. In spelling, however, Albanian children could spell significantly more words correctly than the Welsh children, who in turn could spell more words than the English children. Furthermore, the youngest Albanian children outperformed same-age English and Welsh children in the Phoneme Deletion task and Nonword Spelling. English children, however, were extremely fast and accurate on the Wordchains task, whereas Albanian children were not. These results suggest that children acquire spelling faster the more transparent the orthography, and that shallow orthographies promote a fine-grained level of phonological awareness in young children. Deep orthographies encourage children to rely more on strategies based on word-level orthographic representations. Finally, regression analyses, revealed that phonological skills predicted early reading ability of Albanian and Welsh children only. Orthographic skills predicted skilled reading, however, the contribution of these skills was much stronger for the older English group. In spelling, phonological skills were the only predictor in Albanian across the three age groups. For the English sample, phonological skills predicted early spelling and orthographic skills were the best predictors of spelling ability in older children. The Welsh age-groups showed mixed patterns. These findings, suggest the contribution of phonological and orthographic skills to reading and spelling development is dependent on orthographic transparency.