Selective impairment in word reading and reading comprehension among Chinese elementary school children

Connie Suk Han HO, Yui Chi FONG, Suk-man TSANG, David Wai-ock CHAN, Kevin Kien Hoa CHUNG, Suk-Han LEE

Research output: Other contribution


It is common for those with poor word decoding also show difficulties in reading comprehension. However, some children show selective impairment in either decoding or reading comprehension. The present study examined the cognitive profile of specific poor decoders (PD) and specific poor comprehenders (PC) in Chinese.
Participants were 542 Chinese children of Grades 4 to 6 recruited in Hong Kong from a norm sample of a standardized test. Fourteen measures of six domains (literacy, orthographic skills, phonological memory, rapid naming, morphological awareness, syntactic and discourse skills) were administered.
Reading impairment was defined as scoring 1 SD below the age mean. By comparing with the norm average, the PD group performed poorly in word spelling, morphological awareness, morphosyntactic skills, and text-structure knowledge and the PC group showed weakness in morphological awareness and text-structure knowledge. Results of MANOVA show that the PC group performed significantly better than the PD group in word reading, word spelling, homograph detection, and morphosyntactic skills while the PD group performed better than the PC group only in reading comprehension.
Fifteen percent of Chinese elementary school children show a selective impairment in word reading and reading comprehension. Chinese specific poor decoders are characterized by specific weakness in word reading, spelling, homograph knowledge, and morphosyntactic skills. Morphosyntactic weakness at sentence level tends to contribute to word-learning difficulties without hindering passage understanding. The specific poor comprehenders did not perform less well than the specific poor decoders did in any task except reading comprehension. The former group might be weak at some discourse-level skills/knowledge other than text-structure knowledge. Future longitudinal studies may help to identify the origins of specific poor decoders and poor comprehenders. Copyright © 2017 Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR). All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017



Ho, C. S. H., Fong, C. Y.-C., Tsang, S.-M., Chan, D. W.-O., Chung, K. K.-H., & Lee, S.-H. (2017, July). Selective impairment in word reading and reading comprehension among Chinese elementary school children. Poster presented at the Twenty-Fourth Annual Meeting Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, Halifax Marriott Harbourfront, Halifax, Nova Scotia.


  • Word reading
  • Reading comprehension