Understanding Reading Comprehension in English Immersion Students in China
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Compared to research on English as a First Language (EL1) reading comprehension, there is a dearth of studies investigating English as a Second Language (ESL) reading comprehension. This dissertation reports findings from two studies which examined the cognitive processes underlying English reading comprehension in Chinese ESL students. Two-hundred and forty six Grade 8 students in an English immersion program in a junior middle school in China were administered a battery of reading-related and reading comprehension tests. The first study investigated the cognitive predictors of English reading comprehension in these students. It tested whether the Simple View of Reading model (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) applied to Chinese ESL students and whether the effects of breadth and depth of vocabulary contributed to different levels of reading comprehension. The results showed that the Simple View of Reading model did not predict Chinese English-immersion students’ reading comprehension well. Vocabulary as well as inference and strategy added further variance to the general understanding of text. Vocabulary breadth and depth explained unique variance in reading comprehension, with vocabulary breadth contributing more to general understanding of text and vocabulary depth to deep processing of text. The second study explored characteristics of reading comprehension difficulties among Chinese English-immersion students. Three groups of comprehenders matched on age, nonverbal intelligence, and word reading speed were identified from the 246 Grade 8 Chinese English-immersion students: 33 unexpected poor comprehenders, 28 expected average comprehenders, and 30 unexpected good comprehenders. The three groups differed in vocabulary and higher-level processes. Vocabulary breadth and depth distinguished between the unexpected poor comprehenders and the expected average comprehenders. Inference, strategy, listening comprehension, summary writing, and morphological awareness distinguished between the expected average comprehenders and the unexpected good comprehenders. The findings suggest that vocabulary is the main source of reading comprehension difficulties in these unexpected poor comprehenders. The advantage of the unexpected good comprehenders group was primarily due to discourse comprehension and strategic processes, and is only possible with high language proficiency. Taken together, both vocabulary and higher-level skills are essential to successful reading comprehension in Chinese English-immersion students. The higher-level skills can be used more efficiently to help these students’ reading comprehension when they have acquired adequate vocabulary knowledge.