Aims: The primary aim of this study is to augment our understanding of the component skills that underpin second-language learners' text comprehension by examining the direct and indirect roles of vocabulary knowledge and grammatical skills in second-language learners' listening and reading comprehension. Methods: Our sample included 134 learners with English as an additional language (EAL) and 74 with English as first language (EL1) (Mage = 123.76, SD = 5.02 months). Results: Our path analyses underscored the central role of English vocabulary and grammar in EAL learners' text comprehension. Both made independent and direct contributions to EAL learners' listening and reading comprehension levels. There were also indirect relations between vocabulary and grammar, and reading comprehension through listening comprehension. Similar results were observed for the EL1 group. We also found an association between weaknesses in EAL learners' vocabulary and grammatical skills and their underperformance on listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Conclusions: EAL learners' oral language, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension development should be examined in tandem and beyond the primary-school years to clarify the long-term implications of the observed EAL gap at primary-school levels. Finally, our findings suggest that both vocabulary knowledge and grammatical skills need to be targeted to support children's listening and reading comprehension. This is important for both EAL and EL1 learners but particularly for the former whose English oral language skills may lag behind those of their EL1 peers. Highlights: What is already known about this topic The studies report a tendency of learners with English as an additional language (EAL) to underperform on reading comprehension relative to their native-English-speaking peers (EL1) in the UK. The reported EAL gap in text comprehension has been linked to limitations in oral language skills. Therefore, it is crucial to clarify the key oral language skills that underpin EAL learners' text comprehension. What this paper adds Vocabulary and grammar are related but distinct oral language skills that are directly related to EAL learners' listening and reading comprehension even when individual differences in word-level reading skills and general cognitive ability are taken into account. A significant proportion of older primary-school-age EAL learners may not achieve native-like proficiency in English vocabulary or grammatical skills. There is an association between EAL learners' weaknesses in vocabulary and grammar and their underperformance on listening comprehension and reading comprehension that warrants further investigations. Implications for theory, policy or practice The theoretical models of reading comprehension like the simple view of reading are likely to provide an adequate account of both EAL and EL1 reading comprehension, but it remains unclear whether more complex models of reading comprehension are comparable across first-language and second-language learners. Given the complex reciprocal relations among oral language, listening comprehension and reading comprehension skills, it is imperative that educational programmes target these skills in an integrated way. This is important for all leaners and particularly EAL learners whose English oral language skills may not develop on par with their EL1 peers. EAL learners' oral language, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension development should be examined in tandem and beyond the primary-school years to clarify whether the observed EAL gap at primary-school levels continues into secondary school.
Bibliographical noteThis is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Journal of Research in Reading on 6 Dec 2019, available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1111/1467-9817.12291
- English as a second language (ESL)
- listening comprehension
- reading comprehension