Reading, syntactic, orthographic, and working memory skills of bilingual Arabic-English speaking Canadian children

Salim Abu-Rabia, Linda S. Siegel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This study assessed the reading, language, and memory skills of 56 bilingual Arab-Canadian children age's 9-14. English was their main instructional language, and Arabic was the language spoken at home. All children attended a Heritage Language Program in Toronto where they were taught to read and write Arabic. The children were administered word and pseudo-word reading, language, and working memory tests in English and Arabic. The majority of the children showed at least adequate proficiency in both languages. There was a significant relationship between the acquisition of word and pseudo-word reading working memory, and syntactic awareness skills in the two languages. The poor readers in Arabic had lower scores on all linguistic tasks, except the visual task. There were no significant differences between bilingual English Arabic children and monolingual English-speaking children on the reading, language, and memory tasks. However, bilingual English Arabic children who had reading problems in English had higher scores on English pseudo-word reading and spelling tasks than monolingual English-speaking children with reading disabilities, probably because of positive transfer from the regular nature of Arabic orthography. In this case, bilingualism does not appear to have negative consequences for the development of language reading skills in both languages - Arabic and English - despite the different nature, of the two orthographies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-678
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant form the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Linda S. Siegel. 1Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Israel. 2Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B. C., Canada. 3To whom all correspondence should be addressed. Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. Fax: 972-4-240911; email: [email protected]


  • Bilingual Arabic-English
  • Bilingual reading disabilities
  • Monolingual reading disabilities
  • Reading disabilities in different orthographies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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