Multi-literate experience as a treasure chest for young learners of English as a foreign language

Mila Schwartz, Raphiq Ibrahim, Janina Kahn-Horwitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study aimed to examine the pedagogical implications of the linguistic and orthographic proximity hypothesis. This hypothesis claims that the similarities and differences between first and additional languages and scripts help or hinder the acquisition of literacy in the novel language. In this study we examined the impact of Arabic language and literacy as opposed to Hebrew language and literacy on the acquisition of English basic literacy skills amongst elementary school Arabic L1 speaking versus Hebrew L1 speaking children. All these children are considered emergent bi-, tri- or multi-lingual and literate. A total of 75 fifth grade children participated in the study: 30 Arabic L1 speaking children and 45 Hebrew L1 speaking children. Tests in decoding and spelling various English target conventions were conducted. Arabic L1 speaking children showed an advantage in both decoding and spelling for the short vowel /æ/, the digraph <th>, in decoding of short vowels and in spelling of vowel digraphs thus supporting the linguistic and orthographic proximity hypothesis. There were no significant differences between the two groups on decoding and spelling the silent <e>, which provided a challenge for all participants. As predicted, the phoneme /p/ posed a challenge for spelling for Arabic L1 speaking children. These data provide support for a metaphoric treasure chest consisting of various languages and literacies that children bring into the classroom and which should be considered by teachers. The contents of this treasure chest which are linguistically or orthographically similar to English facilitate its literacy acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1293-1315
Number of pages23
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Arabic
  • English
  • Hebrew
  • Linguistic and orthographic proximity hypothesis
  • Reading
  • Spelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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