Reading skills in three orthographies: The case of trilingual Arabic-Hebrew-English-speaking Arab children

Salim Abu-Rabia, Linda S. Siegel

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This study is an investigation into the interconnections among three languages, Arabic, Hebrew and English, each of which has a different orthography. Hebrew and Arabic have more in common with each other than with English; they are considered "shallow" orthographies if vowelized and "deep" orthographies if unvowelized. The reading, language, and working memory skills of 70 trilingual Israeli-Arab students, aged 14-15, were assessed. Arabic was their main instructional language in school, and Hebrew and English were studied as required subjects. All these adolescents studied Hebrew from the third grade and English from the fourth grade. They were administered word and pseudoword reading, language, orthographic, and working memory tests in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. In spite of differences among these three languages, the majority of the children showed adequate proficiency in three languages. A significant relationship was found between the acquisition of word and pseudoword reading skills, working memory, and syntactic awareness skills within and across the three languages. Trilingualism of this nature seems not to have negative consequences (and may even have positive consequences) for the development of oral language and reading skills in the three languages in spite of their different orthographies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)611-634
    Number of pages24
    JournalReading and Writing
    Issue number7
    StatePublished - Oct 2003

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This research was partially supported by a grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada to L.S. Siegel. The complete set of Arabic, Hebrew and English measures is available from Salim Abu-Rabia, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.


    • Arabic orthography
    • Different orthographies
    • Hebrew orthography
    • Transfer of skills
    • Trilingualism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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