Cross-Language Transfer of Sub-Syllabic Units in the Acquisition of L2 Phonological Awareness: Semivowel Placement Differences between Korean and English

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2007-06-03

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This study investigates the language-specific sub-syllabic awareness of two groups of eighty-six Korean-English speaking kindergarteners learning English as a foreign language or English as a second language and examines the effects of transferred sub-syllabic units from children's first language on their phonological awareness in a second language. The relationship between oral language proficiency and sub-syllabic units was also explored. Children were assessed in Korean/English on experimental tasks of sub-syllabic discrimination and production of semivowels in non-real words and a test of verbal ability. In addition, one group of ten monolingual English speaking kindergarteners as a reference group was tested only in English. Results suggest that Korean-English as a foreign language speaking children have an implicit and explicit sensitivity to body structure in Korean that is highly correlated with their Korean language dominance, and which is transferred to their second language, English. On the other hand, Korean-English as a second language speaking children have an idiosyncratic sub-syllabic preference for rime in English and both rime and body in Korean, presumably resulting from both their English language dominance and dual language exposure. These results have implications for the availability of language-specific sub-syllabic awareness, the transfer of sub-syllabic units from one dominant language to the other language, and the possible influence of oral language proficiency on early reading and spelling. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the incorporation of sub-syllabic awareness measures into phonological assessments will result in a more accurate assessment of English language learners with diverse phonological representations and help guide early reading instruction for children at risk for difficulty learning to read, speak and spell in English as a second language.

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