Speed of reading texts in Arabic and Hebrew

Zohar Eviatar, Raphiq Ibrahim, Tzur M. Karelitz, Anat Ben Simon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We tested the effects of orthography on text reading by comparing reading measures in Arabic and Hebrew-speaking adults. The languages are typologically very similar, but use different orthographies. We measured naming speed of single letters, words and nonwords, and visual processing. Arabic-speakers also performed some of the tasks in Hebrew. We measured silent and oral reading speed of simpler and complex texts and their relationships with component abilities. Results show that Arabic-speakers read complex texts in Arabic more slowly than Hebrew-speakers read in Hebrew. Arabic-speakers read texts in Hebrew more slowly than in Arabic, even though they performed the letter naming and visual tasks equivalently in the two languages. For both groups, the best predictor of oral reading speed is speed of reading single words, with speed of letter naming adding to the prediction in Hebrew, but not in Arabic. No variable had a significant contribution to the prediction of speed of silent reading. The results suggest that even though lower level processes such as letter and word identification may be simpler to perform in Hebrew than in Arabic, higher level processes required to comprehend a complex text, are always faster in the first language of the participants. Both the characteristics of the text, its structural and semantic complexity, and the characteristics of the orthography play roles in the quality of reading. Relationships between the top-down and bottom-up components of reading are dynamic, and specific to orthographic factors and the sociolinguistic environment of the readers (e.g., the diglossia of Arabic).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-559
Number of pages23
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was provided by National Institute for Testing and Evaluation (408).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
  • Reading fluency
  • Reading speed
  • Skilled readers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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