A meta-analysis of the relation between syntactic skills and reading comprehension: A cross-linguistic and developmental investigation

Xiuhong TONG, Liyan YU, S. Hélène DEACON

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

Abstract

Theories of reading comprehension have widely predicted a role for syntactic skills, or the ability to understand and manipulate the structure of a sentence. Yet, these theories are based primarily on English, leaving open the question of whether this remains true across typologically different languages such as English versus Chinese. There are substantial differences in the sentence structures of Chinese versus English, making the comparison of the two particularly interesting. We conducted a meta-analysis contrasting the relation between syntactic skills and reading comprehension in first language readers of English versus Chinese. We test the influence of languages as well as the influence of the grade and the metrics on the magnitude of this relation. We identified 59 studies published between 1986 and 2021, generating 234 effect sizes involving 15,212 participants from kindergarten to high school and above. The magnitude of effects was remarkably similar for studies of English (r =.54) and Chinese (r =.54) readers, with similarities at key developmental points and syntactic tasks. There was also some evidence of modulation by grade levels and the nature of syntactic tasks. These findings confirm theory-based predictions of the importance of syntactic skills to reading comprehension. Extending these predictions, demonstrating these effects for both English and Chinese suggests a universal influence of syntactic skills on reading comprehension. Copyright © 2024 AERA.

Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of Educational Research
Early online dateFeb 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Feb 2024

Citation

Tong, X., Yu, L., & Deacon, S. H. (2024). A meta-analysis of the relation between syntactic skills and reading comprehension: A cross-linguistic and developmental investigation. Review of Educational Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543241228185

Keywords

  • Child development
  • Correlational analysis
  • Effect size
  • Language comprehension/development
  • Meta-analysis
  • Reading
  • Reading comprehension
  • School psychology
  • Student development

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