21st March Orwell presentation at the 2021 American Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Conference

Invited Orwell presentation at the colloquium: Learning languages with specific learning difficulties in the 21st century: Perspectives of identification, achievement, assessment,  and teacher education

Colloquium organizer: Judit Kormos, Lancaster University, United Kingdom

Colloquium is the recipient of the prestigious Language Learning grant

Presentation 2: Why some  children succeed and others fail in learning English as a foreign language.

Presenters: Patrick Snellings, Nihayra Leona, Margreet van Koert, Judith Rispens, Jurgen Tijms, & Maurits van der Molen, University of Amsterdam

Children with Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) might not only experience difficulties in learning the majority language of the country they live in but also when learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at school. Becoming proficient in reading and writing in EFL, due to its opaque orthography, is particularly challenging for children with weak literacy skills in their first language. To better understand and ultimately prevent problems in EFL for students with SpLDs, we need to determine which cognitive, motivational and linguistic factors contribute to success in EFL. The present study focused on predicting individual differences in English word and sentence reading and word spelling in Dutch primary school children learning EFL. A total of 279 10-11-year-old Dutch children participated in our research. For most children Dutch was their first language, for others their second, and they all had received at least half a year of formal English teaching. All children performed tasks that are known to be challenging for children with reading problems in their first language: (1) Dutch timed pseudo(word) reading, rapid naming and phonological awareness. In addition, (2) a non-verbal intelligence task (RAVEN), and verbal short-term and working memory tasks (WISC) were administered. Children furthermore (3) filled in questionnaires tapping motivation and extramural exposure to English. Number of years of formal English teaching and number of languages spoken at home (4) were also reported. We used hierarchical linear regressions for each dependent variable (English word spelling; English sentence reading, and English word reading) to examine the contribution of the variables reported in (1) – (4) above. Results show that individual differences in English spelling for Dutch children were predicted by their spelling abilities in Dutch and the exposure to extramural English. Both word and sentence reading in English was significantly associated with Dutch word reading, phonological awareness and extramural exposure to English. The implications of these findings for theories of SpLD and second language learning will be discussed. We will discuss how the current findings enable teachers of English as an L2 to take  individual differences into account and how they can improve their support for children with SpLD. We will also outline how ongoing and future research can develop computerized tools for teachers that make this individualized instruction feasible.

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