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ERI Talk - Holly Joseph: "Reading comprehension in children who speak English as an additional language"

  • March 26th, 2021
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Internationalization at Home Actions of the Faculty of Psychology and Speech Therapy

13:00h, online.

Language: English

This talk has been proposed within the framework of the Internationalization at Home Actions of the Faculty of Psychology and Logopèdia of the University of Valencia

Reading comprehension in children who speak English as an additional language​

Holly Joseph

University of Reading


Children who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) make up around 20% of all children in English primary schools and the number is growing year on year. Although a very diverse group, these children tend towards a particular profile of reading skills: good decoding and word reading accuracy but generally poorer vocabulary and comprehension skills than children who speak only English. However, despite these weaknesses in vocabulary and reading comprehension skill, EAL children make faster progress in literacy at school than English-speaking monolingual children (Strand et al., 2015), suggesting that they may employ particular skills or strategies that enable their rapid improvement. While we do not currently know what these skills are, it is critical to understand more about why this group of children tends to succeed against the odds.

In this talk I will discuss what we know about EAL children’s reading comprehension, with a particular focus on how they learn vocabulary through the process of reading. We know that the primary source for vocabulary development in later childhood is through reading and most new words are learned simply through repeated exposure in this way. While a number of previous studies have examined word learning in bilingual children using explicit learning tasks, incidental learning of novel words through reading has not been studied in EAL children. It is therefore important to examine incidental learning during reading in EAL children to see if their fast progress at school is partly due to efficient learning of novel words they encounter as they read. 

Reporting two experiments that examine EAL and monolingual’s learning of new words through reading them repeatedly in texts as their eye movements are monitored, I will show that EAL children show relatively rapid vocabulary learning through reading and argue that this may be due to their experience in learning new words with fewer encounters (by virtue of using each language only part of the time) and their experience encountering words in more diverse contexts (i.e. language environments). The results are encouraging for educators working with EAL children seeking to improve their vocabulary knowledge.



Holly Joseph is an Associate Professor in Language Education and Literacy Development at the Institute of Education in Reading and co-director of Bilingualism Matters@Reading. Her research focuses on reading and reading difficulties in children who speak English as an additional language (EAL children). In her studies, she uses eye-tracking, which is a technique that allows to capture the processes underlying reading comprehension. More information about her research interests and affiliations here.