Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Phonological awareness and working memory: Comparisons between South African and British children

Kate Cockcroft, Tracy Alloway


The aim of this study was to compare the working memory and phonological awareness profiles of children from diverse linguistic backgrounds, as well as to investigate the constructs that underlie these skills. A total of 119 children, all in their first year of learning to read in English, were administered phonological awareness, working memory and non-verbal IQ measures. The sample comprised English-as-first-language (EL1) British (UK) children (n = 40), EL1 South African (SA) children (n = 42) and English-as-second-language (ESL) South African children (n = 37). The ESL SA and EL1 UK groups were generally commensurate in terms of phonological processing and working memory skills, while the EL1 SA group showed the highest levels of performance. This could be due to the benefit of exposure to multiple languages (giving the ELI SA children an advantage over the EL1 UK group) and being tested in a language in which was both their home language and medium of school instruction (giving them an advantage over the ESL group). Further, it was found that phonological awareness and verbal memory measures appeared to be tapping the same construct, named phonological processing, in the collective sample.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2012, 30(1): 13–24
AJOL African Journals Online