Syntactic awareness skills in English among children who speak Slavic or Chinese languages as a first language and English as a second language

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims and objectives/purpose/research questions: The purpose of this study was to examine syntactic awareness skills in English, among two groups of children: native Chinese speakers and native Slavic (L1) speakers. Both groups were second language English (L2) speakers. Their syntactic awareness skills were compared to a matched sample of L1 English speakers. Design/methodology/approach: Eighty-six third grade students participated in the study, matched between language groups on the basis of age and gender, as well as academic achievements and word reading levels. Data and analysis: L1 English and L1 Slavic groups performed significantly better on the syntactic awareness task than did the L1 Chinese group. A close examination of specific syntactic constructions revealed that the L1 Chinese group did not perform as well as the other groups on past tense constructions, which do not exist in Chinese but do exist in Slavic languages. However, there were no between-group differences on superlative and comparative constructions, which exist in all three languages. Findings/conclusions: The results contribute to our knowledge about cross-linguistic influences between English, Slavic, and Chinese, showing that L1 Slavic facilitates the learnability of L2 English, while L1 Chinese impedes the learnability of L2 English. Originality: The originality of the study lies in the comparison of children from three different L1 groups, matched with respect to reading level. The examination of languages that are typologically different in their syntax is unique. Significance/implications: The results highlight the importance of taking the specific language backgrounds of L2 learners into consideration. Limitations: The current study did not include an assessment of L1 language proficiency among participants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-128
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author would like to thank the principals, teachers, and students of the North Vancouver School District for their support and participation in this study and to Elenita Tseng for assistance with data collection and entry. In addition, the author would like to thank Linda S. Siegel for granting access to the data base as well as her ongoing valuable support and insights in the process of this study. Furthermore, the author would like to thank Professor David Share for his insight in the writing and the analysis process of of this study. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by a grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Linda S. Siegel.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Bilingualism
  • second language transfer
  • syntactic awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Syntactic awareness skills in English among children who speak Slavic or Chinese languages as a first language and English as a second language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this