Reading as a multi-dimensional process: Cognitive-linguistic processing among novice ESL readers

Annalene van Staden, South Africa, ID LLCE2017-111;           Abstract: Reading as a multi-dimensional process is associated with a range of brain processes and cognitive-linguistic functions. Although the ultimate goal of reading is reading comprehension, fundamental to reading is our ability to process words and grasp their meanings – if this is not on par, it will seriously affect reading comprehension. On their path to becoming proficient readers, the first task facing the beginner reader is to become aware of the alphabetic principle (i.e. their awareness of the relationship between printed words and their pronunciations). In addition, inter-relationships have also been established between reading ability and the following cognitive and linguistic skills, namely working memory, orthographic processing, word decoding, vocabulary and oral language proficiency. This paper aims to expand the scholarly knowledge about factors influencing the early reading development of English language learners (ESL’s), by exploring the interaction between cognitive and linguistic skills and their contribution to early reading development among early childhood ESL learners (N = 109), sampled at three South African schools. The results of this study demonstrated higher correlations between phonological awareness, word decoding and reading ability in earlier grades whilst significant correlations were also yielded for the following cognitive and linguistic skills, namely working memory, vocabulary and oral language comprehension. Moreover, this study makes a valuable contribution in identifying the underlying cognitive-linguistic difficulties of ESL readers which may help inform teaching practices for novice ESL readers during the early stages of reading.

Key words: Early reading development; ESL learners; cognitive linguistic processing.