CROSS-LINGUISTIC TRANSFER OF SPELLING SKILLS IN SPANISH-SPEAKING ADULT ESL LEARNERS
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Spelling is an important literacy skill, and learning to spell is an important component of learning to write. Learners with strong spelling skills also exhibit greater reading, vocabulary, and orthographic knowledge than those with poor spelling skills (Ehri & Rosenthal, 2007; Ehri & Wilce, 1987; Rankin, Bruning, Timme, & Katkanant, 1993). English, being a deep orthography, has inconsistent sound-to-letter correspondences (Seymour, 2005; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005). This poses a great challenge for learners in gaining spelling fluency and accuracy. The purpose of the present study is to examine cross-linguistic transfer of English vowel spellings in Spanish-speaking adult ESL learners. The research participants were 129 Spanish-speaking adult ESL learners and 104 native English-speaking GED students enrolled in a community college located in the South Atlantic region of the United States. The adult ESL participants were in classes at three different levels of English proficiency: advanced, intermediate, and beginning. An experimental English spelling test was administered to both the native English-speaking and ESL participants. In addition, the adult ESL participants took the standardized spelling tests to rank their spelling skills in both English and Spanish. The data were analyzed using robust regression and Poisson regression procedures, Mann-Whitney test, and descriptive statistics. The study found that both Spanish spelling skills and English proficiency are strong predictors of English spelling skills. Spanish spelling is also a strong predictor of level of L1-influenced transfer. More proficient Spanish spellers made significantly fewer L1-influenced spelling errors than less proficient Spanish spellers. L1-influenced transfer of spelling knowledge from Spanish to English likely occurred in three vowel targets (/ɑɪ/ spelled as ae, ai, or ay, /ɑʊ/ spelled as au, and /eɪ/ spelled as e). The ESL participants and the native English-speaking participants produced highly similar error patterns of English vowel spellings when the errors did not indicate L1-influenced transfer, which implies that the two groups might follow similar trajectories of developing English spelling skills. The findings may help guide future researchers or practitioners to modify and develop instructional spelling intervention to meet the needs of adult ESL learners and help them gain English spelling competence.