The development of reading comprehension skills in children learning English as a second language

Orly Lipka, Linda S. Siegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reading comprehension is a multi-dimensional process that includes the reader, the text, and factors associated with the activity of reading. Most research and theories of comprehension are based primarily on research conducted with monolingual English speakers (L1). The present study was designed to investigate the cognitive and linguistic factors that have an influence on reading comprehension in English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) speakers. The cognitive aspects of reading comprehension among L1 speakers and ESL speakers in the seventh grade were investigated. The performance of both groups was compared and the role of some relevant processes, including word reading, word reading fluency, phonological awareness, working memory, and morphological and syntactic awareness were assessed. Within this sample, three groups were examined: (1) children with poor comprehension (PC) in the absence of word reading difficulties (2) children with poor word reading and poor comprehension (poor readers, PR) (3) and children with both good word reading and comprehension abilities (good comprehenders, GC). The results demonstrated that a variety of cognitive processes, such as working memory and phonological, syntactic, and morphological awareness are important for reading comprehension and compromised in poor comprehenders. The GC group performed better than the PC group on all of the cognitive measures, indicating that comprehension depends on a variety of phonological, memory and linguistic processes and that adequate word recognition skill are important for reading comprehension. The prevalence of the ESL and L1 students was similar across the three reading groups. The ESL and L1 students demonstrated similar performance, indicating that the skills underlying reading comprehension are similar in the ESL and L1 students. This study demonstrated that ESL students are capable of developing word reading and reading comprehension skills that are as strong as those of their L1 peers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1873-1898
Number of pages26
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to L.S. Siegel. The authors would like to thank the children that participated in this study, the teachers, and administrators for their cooperation and support. This study was part of a thesis of the first author. We would like to thank the thesis committee, Dr. Laurie Ford and Professor Bruno Zumbo, for their valuable support and comments during the writing of this manuscript.


  • ESL
  • Poor comprehenders
  • Reading comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'The development of reading comprehension skills in children learning English as a second language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this