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Adult first-time readers in a second language
Martha Young-Scholten
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Table 1. shows that English instruction and NL schooling is generally linked to reading level. But to measure the literacy skills of low-literate adults, children’s standardised tests were unusable due to such adults’ weak linguistic proficiency, and tests for low-literate L2 adults were of marginal use in their focus on what adults cannot do. Components of some tests recently used (see Condelli et al.) were adopted or simplified: (1) unordered/varied font letter identification; (2) common sign reading; (3) single-sentence cloze exercises (multiple choice); (4) word-pair discrimination; (4) single word reading (based on spoken lexicon); (5) paragraph reading (word awareness task story). Writing was measured through asking learners to write personal details. All learners scoring ‘1’ for reading were unschooled in their NL, though this is not a two-way relationship; not all unschooled learners scored a ‘1’ in reading, and there is no obvious relationship between English instruction, schooling and reading level. Somali subject S3 was unschooled, had two weeks of English instruction, yet scored ‘4’ in reading.

Table 1. Reading level for adults with variable amounts of schooling

learner

native language schooling

amount of English instruction

reading level

V1 female

0 years

1 year

1

V2 female

2 years Chinese

2 years

3

V3 female

3 years

4 years

4

V4 female

3 years

5 months

3

V5 male

1 year + 4 Chinese

½ year

3

V6 female

0 years

1 year

1

V7 male

5 years

½ year

3

S1 male

4 years

0

5

S2 female

0 years

2 years

1

S3 male

0 years

2 wks

4

S4 female

0 years

3 years

2

S5 female

2 years

1 year

3

S6 female

2 years

1 year

2

S7 female

5 years

1 ½ year

3

S8 female

0 years

4 months

1

S9 female

0 years

1 year

1

S10 female

0 years

1 ½ years

1

Learners scoring ‘1’ could identify all letters in test (1), at least some street signs and write their names, but scored between 0 % and 25% on other reading tests. At the other end of the spectrum were learners scoring 100% on all sub-tests including single word decoding who read the paragraph fluently. None of the 17 either read all single words in isolation but not the paragraph or read the paragraph but not words in isolation. The ability to read words in isolation was then used as a measure of decoding ability and compared to phonemic awareness (see below). The two Vietnamese learners with Chinese schooling exhibited similar reading levels, but without a larger sample one cannot say whether V5’s year of Vietnamese schooling enabled him to reach the same level in six months of English classes that it took V2, with two years of Chinese schooling, a further 1 ½ years to reach.

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