Bilingual phonological awareness as a function of language proficiency

Einat Oz-Vecht, Tamar Degani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims and objectives: The present study examined whether phonological awareness reflects a stable construct or whether it varies by the different languages of bilingual speakers. In particular, the study tests to what extent language proficiency determines phonological awareness above and beyond language structural characteristics. Methodology: Bilingual adult speakers were tested as they afford within-participant comparisons to address this issue. Specifically, 29 Hebrew (L1)-English (L2) bilinguals were compared to 33 English (L1)-Hebrew (L2) bilinguals on a timed auditory rhyme judgment task including 270 word-pairs (90 English pairs, 90 Hebrew pairs, and 90 pseudo-Hebrew pairs). Data and analysis: Reaction times and dʹ on the rhyme judgment task were compared between the two bilingual groups to examine the role of language proficiency in predicting phonological awareness performance. Furthermore, rhyme judgments on Hebrew pairs were correlated with those on English pairs to provide within-participant index of phonological awareness stability. Findings: Rhyme judgment performance on the same set of words was affected by the strength of linguistic representations, as determined by language proficiency profile. English-Hebrew bilinguals performed better on English pairs, whereas Hebrew-English bilinguals performed better on Hebrew pairs. Moreover, within-group comparisons revealed that performance in the more proficient language was not correlated with performance in the less proficient language. Originality: By testing two groups of bilinguals who differ in their language dominance profile using the same set of materials (including both L1 and L2 pairs), the results reveal differences in phonological awareness abilities as a function of language proficiency that cannot be reduced to structural differences between the examined languages. Significance: The findings underscore the dynamic nature of phonological awareness abilities and carry implications for clinical diagnosis of bilingual populations, in that rhyme judgment performance in one language should not be taken to index expected abilities in the other language of bilingual speakers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-697
Number of pages35
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • Phonological awareness
  • bilingualism
  • language proficiency
  • rhyme judgment
  • strength of linguistic representations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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