Phonological Awareness and Literacy in L2: Sensitivity to Phonological Awareness and Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences in L2 English

Phonological Awareness and Literacy in L2: Sensitivity to Phonological Awareness and Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences in L2 English

Elena Theodosis Kkese (Cyprus University of Technology, Cyprus)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch004


Phonological awareness is the conscious awareness that oral language can be subdivided into subcomponents, including words, syllables, rhymes, and sounds. Its importance has been identified in the development of children's literacy in L1, especially in terms of spelling, writing, and reading. Phonological awareness is of special importance for L2 acquisition as well, suggesting a strong correlation between this metalinguistic proficiency and literacy. This chapter examines this relation in young adults who are already literate in the L1 by providing an overview of the understudied area of L2 phonological awareness and its connection to spoken and written literacy. It is argued that phonological awareness influences spoken and written literacy skills given that L2 English users transfer L1 phonological awareness skills to the target language. In this context, the author suggests that instruction should be provided in the form of short, fun activities matching the interests of the young L2 adults.
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Discovering the processes that enable acquisition of a second language (often referred to as L2) has always been a challenging task for researchers, educators, and language users. An L2 may refer to any subsequent language learned in addition to the mother tongue(s). Acquiring an L2 implies that adult language learners have already acquired their first language (L1), which may influence them during the L2 acquisition, and they are often expected to draw on this knowledge while acquiring the target language. They further possess general knowledge about the world, communication strategies, and knowledge of how language works in general, which are factors affecting the acquisition of an L2.

This chapter is concerned with the development of oral and written literacy in alphabetic languages, in other words, the skills, abilities, and knowledge that are needed for spelling, writing, and reading to develop (Justice & Pullen, 2003). The emphasis is on young adults learning an L2 in a new orthography and how phonological awareness can aid them in this endeavour, even though the chapter has larger implications for L1 and L2 populations across different orthographies. Becoming literate in a language involves mastering the code that refers to the skill of matching graphemes to the phonemes they represent. Given that language is code-based, decoding and recoding are necessary for reading and writing (Fricke, Bowyer-Crane, Haley, Hulme, & Snowling, 2013; Krijnen, van Steensel, Meeuwisse, Jongerling, & Severiens, 2019; Lems, Miller, & Soro, 2017). As a consequence, literacy development depends on several factors, such as oral language, phonological awareness, and letter knowledge. However, for the context under investigation, the relationship of literacy to phonological awareness is considered to be the most suitable predictor of literacy development in both the L1 and L2. It is argued that knowledge of the grapheme-phoneme correspondences, also referred to as alphabetic knowledge (Lems, Miller, & Soro, 2017), is of particular importance for literacy acquisition to reach an advanced level.

When considering the learning and teaching of the English as an L2, the question that emerges is how L2 users develop phonological skills in the target language. Also, a further question is whether these skills have already been developed in the L1, including the knowledge of the L1 phonological system, and whether this knowledge can be transferred to the L2 (Anderson, 2004). A number of studies emphasize the relationships between L1 and L2 literacy skills (Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 2003; Abu-Rabia & Siegel 2002; Shimron & Sivan, 1994). Literacy skills in L2 English seem to be related to literacy skills in the L1 despite the use of different orthographies as in the case of L1 Arabic, Hebrew, and Mandarin, which are languages that use a different script and have diverse phonological representations when compared to L2 English. Studies of literate adult L2 learners from non-alphabet and alphabet L1 languages emphasize the same need, which is the need of instruction in the phoneme-grapheme correspondences of written L2 English (Strucker, 2002). Literate adults in an alphabetic language have developed their reading skills and behaviors in the L1 and are aware that written language can represent speech. They also have exposure to written speech outside the L2 classroom, and most of them may not face major difficulties when reading English because they are more familiar with the English alphabet compared to non-alphabet L2 learners. However, the present chapter examines both alphabetic L1 and L2 languages pointing to the need of longitudinal, cross-language studies on systems that employ different orthographies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Rime: The part of a syllable that includes the vowel and any consonant sounds that come after it, for instance, the two segments /a?/ and /l/ in “bile” and the three segments /?/, /n/, and /t/ in “hunt”.

Phonological Awareness: The understanding that the oral language consists of words, syllables, onsets, and rimes.

Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound that changes the meaning of spoken words. In the word “if”, there are two, namely /?/ and /f/.

Decoding: What readers do to sound out words in order to translate written language into oral language.

Phonemic Awareness: The ability to hear and identify phonemes (individual sounds).

Grapheme: The smallest unit of a writing system of any given language such as “b” and “d” in English that can produce distinct words like “big” and “dig”.

Syllable: A word part that contains a vowel sound as in e-vent and/or news-pa-per.

Cypriot Greek (CG): Also referred to as Kypriaka, CG is the variety used in Greek-speaking Cyprus that has evolved from Koine. It is considered one of the major Greek dialects commonly used in modern times, along with Pontic and Standard Modern Greek.

Onset: The initial consonant sound of a syllable, for instance, the first segment /b/ in “bile” or /h/ in “hunt”.

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