Salvaging English literacy as L2 in native Chinese-speaking children with dyslexia

Ricky Van Yip TSO, Kitty Kit-yu YEUNG, Janet Hui-wen HSIAO, Kathy Kar-man SHUM

Research output: Other contributionOther contributions


Literacy skills are essential to learning and academic achievement. Children with specific learning difficulties (SpLD) in literacy, or ‘dyslexia’, are marked by difficulties in reading performances associated with deficits in literacy-related cognitive skills. Chinese literacy and related cognitive skills have been shown to predict literacy in English as L2. Thus, Chinese children with dyslexia also commonly demonstrate difficulties in English reading.
However, since Chinese character recognition depends strongly on visuo-orthographic processing while English word recognition on phonics skills, dyslexia in Chinese and English are characterized by different cognitive deficits and neural bases. Hence, recognizing English words with a “look-and-say” method rather than phonics rules may further hinder English reading performance in native Chinese-speaking children with dyslexia.
Here we investigate the effect of an 8-week English phonics intervention on both L1 and L2 in Chinese children with dyslexia. In our sample of first-graders, it was found that explicit English phonics training significantly improved English reading and phonics skills, while such improvement did not transfer to Chinese reading and was also not observed in controls who did not receive the training. Moreover, Chinese literacy skills in the pretest did not predict English reading performances in the post-test and vice versa: English reading performance in the posttest could only be predicted by English-specific phonics skills in the pretest. Contrary to the existing Western literature on bilingual development in which literacy skills transfer across languages, teaching English-specific literacy skills to Chinese-English bilinguals was limited to English and did not transfer to Chinese. The importance of providing separate interventions for literacy in L1 and L2 concurrently in Chinese-English bilinguals with dyslexia will be discussed. Copyright © 2018 Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


Tso, R. V.-Y., Yeung, K. K.-Y., Hsiao, J. H.-W., & Shum, K. K.-M. (2018, July). Salvaging English literacy as L2 in native Chinese-speaking children with dyslexia. Poster presented at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR), Hilton Brighton Metropole, Brighton, UK.


  • Biliteracy
  • Developmental dyslexia
  • Chinese learners of English
  • Bilingualism
  • Transfer


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