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Adult L2 Readers

This post is about an article I recently read. It is titled: Phonemic Awareness and Reading Comprehension among Japanese Adult Learners of English. It was published in, Open Journal of Modern Linguistics, 4, in 2014 ( The authors are L. Yoshikawa and J. Yamashita.


The purpose of this study was to see whether phoneme awareness (PA) has any effect on reading comprehension (RC) in L2-English reading by adult Japanese learners. It is well known that PA plays an important role with beginning readers. Readers who come across unknown words have to “sound them out,” they have to decode them, and for this PA is essential. Once a reader becomes more skilled, however, words are recognized holistically, on a level above the phonemic, so phonological processing becomes less important. This has been shown with L1 readers, and the study discussed here wanted to see if this holds true with more advanced L2 readers, specifically, native Japanese speakers reading English.


The article states, “Phonemic awareness (PA) enables decoding in alphabetic language, like English, by helping readers extract sound information from writing. It is a fundamental ability for reading skills development. Decoding skills supported by PA foster the accurate pronunciation of unfamiliar words and help readers create phonological representations of unknown words. And it has been shown time and time again how these phonological processing skills are critical for reading success.”


This is well known.


It has also been claimed that L2 English readers without alphabetic reading experience go through different cognitive processes from those with an alphabetic L1 background. Writing systems vary in the way sounds are represented: alphabetic characters represent phonemes, those in syllabaries, such as Japanese kana, represent syllables, and those in logographies, such as Chinese and Japanese kanji, represent morphemes. The studies focusing on Japanese readers indicate that even though kana requires phonological processing, it is a syllable-level protocol, so the cognitive processing executed might have different features – with critical implications –  because readers transfer the cognitive strategies already established in their L1 to L2 reading.


With this background knowledge in mind, the study takes up the following question: Does PA have any effect on L2-English RC among L1-Japanese adult readers? It examined this question by including vocabulary knowledge as well as decoding skills as variables, because these two are known predictors of RC. 


In the study, the researchers tested 71 Japanese speaking adult students on their PA. This included tests that are typical of such testing. That is, they tested the students’ ability to distinguish, delete, segment and isolate individual phonemes. Real words as well as pseudo-words were used. The subjects were also tested on vocabulary. Finally, a standardized, internationally known RC test was administered. The researchers correlated the scores and concluded that PA serves as “a basis for L2-English reading among an L1-Japanese population”. Finding an effect of PA on RC, they say, “indicates that phonological processing skills will help these readers process and comprehend written text information in their L2.” PA, that is, continues to be a vitally important skill with adult readers.


This is an important study. It is the first to show this connection in a group of readers from a non-alphabetic L1. The Introduction is extremely well written and would be useful to anyone interested in L2 reading and/or L2 decoding. The Discussion compares the findings of this study with similar studies involving speakers of different L1s. I found it an informative read. And, it indicates the importance of teachings phonological skills…


…which is what b4 does.

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