Language & Literacy


a boy struggling to read a book

  • Paper Citation: Philip Capin, Sharon Vaughn, Joseph E. Miller, Jeremy Miciak, Anna-Mari Fall, Greg Roberts, Eunsoo Cho, Amy E. Barth, Paul K. Steinle & Jack M. Fletcher (2023) Investigating the Reading Profiles of Middle School Emergent Bilinguals with Significant Reading Comprehension Difficulties, Scientific Studies of Reading, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2023.2254871

A few months ago, a study crossed my radar that caused me to stop, print it out, mark it up, and then begin digging into related studies, which is what I do when a study grabs my attention.

Getting into research is akin to getting into Miles Davis—if you like a given song or album, you may start checking out the other musicians he plays with, and they'll lead you into a new and ever expanding fractal universe, because Davis had a knack for collaborating with musicians who were geniuses in their own right. A few examples: John Coltrane, Tony Williams, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, the list goes on and on.


Researchers with gifts This has been a great year for education research. I thought it could be fun to review some of what has come across my own limited radar over the course of 2023.

The method I used to create this wrap-up was to go back through my Twitter timeline starting in January, and pull all research related tweets into a doc. I then began sorting those by theme and ended up with several high-level buckets, with further sub-themes within and across those buckets. Note that I didn’t also go through my Mastodon nor Bluesky feeds, as this was time-consuming enough!

The rough big ticket research items I ended up with were:

  • Multilinguals and multilingualism
  • Reading
  • Morphology
  • The influence of physical or cultural environment
  • The content of teaching and learning
  • The precedence of academic skills over soft skills
  • Brain research and Artificial Neural Networks

I'm going to try out a new type of post here, in which I'll share one interesting research item I've happened across in greater depth. In the past, I've simply tweeted them out, but then I forget about them. I'm hoping this will be a better way of retaining them in memory and deepening my understanding — and of course, sharing them with you!

Individual differences in L2 listening proficiency revisited: Roles of form, meaning, and use aspects of phonological vocabulary knowledge

  • Citation: Saito, K., Uchihara, T., Takizawa, K., & Suzukida, Y. (2023). Individual differences in L2 listening proficiency revisited: Roles of form, meaning, and use aspects of phonological vocabulary knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 1-27. doi:10.1017/S027226312300044X

This paper explores how various aspects of phonological vocabulary knowledge affect second language (L2) listening proficiency. The study involved 126 Japanese learners of English.

Back in 1978, Bloom & Lahey presented a simple and useful model of language: form, meaning, and use.

Bloom and Lahey's model of language


In my last post, we landed on the idea of a nascent scaffold that we are born with in our brains, which is developed through our daily interactions with one another – and then further accelerated through the reinforcement and extension of written language use.

Before we venture into the wilds of the possible relations between language and thought, I wanted to build on this idea of how our inner scaffolds are most fully realized through speaking, listening, reading, and writing by geeking out about the beauty and wonder of multilingualism.


linguistic distance

There is a concept termed diglossia worth exploring in relation to dialects of African American English used in the United States.

What is diglossia?

Diglossia can be defined as “the coexistence of two varieties of the same language throughout a speech community. Often, one form is the literary or prestige dialect, and the other is a common dialect spoken by most of the population.”

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. diglossia. Encyclopedia Britannica.


brain fuse

Gaining a clear picture of a student’s language and literacy abilities in both English and their home language is critically important in two scenarios:

  • the student has just entered your school and speaks another language at home (whether because he is entering the school system in kindergarten or is newly arrived from another country and entering in a later grade)
  • the student is in a bilingual program

Gaining information in both languages for bilingual students in these situations can portray a completely different spectrum of profiles than when assessing in English only.


In my last post, we reviewed a round up of some research on phonology, with clarifications around what we know and what we do not yet know regarding the relation of advanced phonemic awareness training and phonemic proficiency to outcomes for struggling readers.

One piece I briefly mentioned in that post and which I’d like to dig further into is from David Share, Is the Science of Reading Just the Science of Reading English?

This is an important question to ask, because while research into how children who speak English learn to read in English has become quite substantive (even if still mostly unknown in too many classrooms), there is still quite a bit we don’t know about learning to read in English if you don’t speak English as your first language, and there’s even more we don’t yet know about learning to read in languages other than English.


In my last post, we looked at a wonderful paper, Universals in Learning to Read Across Languages and Writing Systems, that outlines operating principles of reading and writing across languages, as well as some key variations. Continuing on this theme, I wanted to highlight another recent paper, The universal language network: A cross-linguistic investigation spanning 45 languages and 11 language families.”

The project is cool — the researchers have started a cross-linguistic database of brain scans, and their initial findings demonstrate a strong universal neural basis for language across multiple languages. Here’s the key finding that stood out to me:

In summary, we have here established that several key properties of the neural architecture of language—including its topography, lateralization to the left hemisphere, strong within network functional integration, and selectivity for linguistic processing—hold across speakers of diverse languages spanning 11 language families; and the variability we observed across languages is lower than the inter-individual variability. The language brain network therefore appears well-suited to support the broadly common features of languages, shaped by biological and cultural evolution. (Ayyash et al., 2021)

I found out about this paper from this Twitter thread from one of the researchers, Ev Fedorenko, and her thread also provides a neat summary of the project.

As this database of brain scans across languages is built out, it will be interesting to see what specific variations between languages and neural architecture may arise. For example, another recent paper, Difference Between Children and Adults in the Print-speech Coactivated Network,” examined the brain scans of native Chinese speakers and found some variations from past studies in the brains of developing readers, most likely due to the difference in writing systems in terms of the lack of grapheme-phoneme correspondence for Chinese characters, as well as how a single pronunciation can have many different meanings represented by different visual characters.

Taken together, our findings indicate that print-speech convergence is generally language-universal in adults, but it shows some language-specific features in developing readers. (He et al., 2021)

Overall, it’s fascinating to see how current research converges on the significant universality across languages in terms of how literacy develops, and exciting to see that specific differences between languages and writing systems are beginning to be studied with greater specificity.

As Perfetti and Verhoeven tidily pointed out in their paper:

The story of learning to read thus is one of universals and particulars: (i) Universals, because writing maps onto language, no matter the details of the system, creating a common challenge in learning that mapping, and because experience leads to familiarity-based identification across languages. (ii) Particulars, because it does matter for learning how different levels of language – morphemes, syllables, phonemes – are engaged; this in turn depends on the structure of the language and how its written form accommodates this structure. (Verhoeven & Perfetti, 2021)

#speech #language #literacy #universal #reading #multilingualism #orthography #brain #neuroscience #research


In the course of skimming research articles, every now and then something surfaces that is comprehensive, clarifying, and just flat out fun to read because it brings illumination to something I’ve been grappling with.

One I want to make sure to bring to your attention, just in case you haven’t yet read it, is this open access piece from Verhoeven and Perfetti, Universals in Learning to Read Across Languages and Writing Systems. As I’ve been learning a lot more about learning how to read and write in English, as well as about the process of language development in general, I sometimes worry that not everything I learn may generalize well, especially to languages whose writing and phonological systems differ quite substantially from English. Here’s where the paper comes in as a great resource, because the authors offer—as noted in the title—some universal principles across a number of languages, and highlight some key differences.

They highlight, for example, the extreme difficulty of English spelling among alphabetic writing systems due to its “syllabic complexity” and lack of consistent and transparent mapping of phonology. But the difficulty of learning any alphabetic writing system is nothing compared to the complexity of Chinese, which blows all other writing systems out of the water.

They also have a lovely table that compares some of the major writing and language systems to one another descriptively, which I know is a resource I will return to in the future.

In the course of this high-level examination, the authors also do us another service, which is to render intricate and complex ideas from various studies on reading into short, clear sentences.

For example, I’ve recently written about the transformation of my own thinking around phonemic awareness, and here’s Verhoeven and Perfetti succinctly stating the current state of PA research:

“Evidence in alphabetic languages for the late association between phonemic awareness and literacy suggests that phonemic awareness and learning to read alphabetically can develop reciprocally. This means that phonemic awareness is an enabler rather than a prerequisite for alphabetic reading.”

Or the need for spelling practice — something we increasingly neglect or dismiss in the U.S.:

“An important cross-linguistic finding is that spelling practice helps children internalize orthographic structures.”

There are also some interesting critiques of the Simple View of Reading in the section on comprehension:

“[the] simple view is incomplete in accounting for development of reading skill because reading itself brings about the learning of vocabulary and experience with a wider variety of grammatical structures and text types that are not experienced in typical spoken language (outside of academic lectures). Reading also increases the general knowledge that is needed to support comprehension.”

At the center of this critique is the role of vocabulary, which spans across linguistic and conceptual knowledge:

“Because so much of vocabulary is acquired following beginning reading, it is not simply a store of language knowledge waiting to be unlocked by decoding. Word meanings are continuously being retrieved, learned, and fine-tuned by reading itself. Both the quality of specific word knowledge (lexical quality) and the quantity of known words are important in supporting comprehension (Perfetti, 2007; Perfetti & Hart, 2001). It might seem convenient to subsume vocabulary under spoken language comprehension and thereby have a two-factor model of reading comprehension. However, this would fail to capture some observations about word meanings. For example, vocabulary knowledge directly supports identification of words that have exceptional spellings (Ricketts, Nation, & Bishop, 2007). A model that allows a more direct influence of knowledge of word meanings on reading comprehension may be more appropriate across languages (see Verhoeven & van Leeuwe, 2008). Beyond beginning reading, where only spoken language vocabulary is available, word meanings are not intrinsically part of spoken language more than written language. In both cases, they are the central connection point between coded input and comprehension, as much a component of a reading system as a language system (Perfetti & Stafura, 2014).”

I thought this was interesting in a couple of ways. First, because this resonates with my own experience as someone who read quite a lot in my formative years, and thus a large amount of the vocabulary I possess is purely in the written form — I can read it and write it, but may not have had much exposure to it in spoken language nor use it in my own speech. Second, because it brought me back to a similar critique that Mark Seidenberg made against the SVR in some endnotes to Reading at the Speed of Light, in which he states, “The main weakness in Gough’s theory is that it did not make sufficient room for the ways that the components influence each other. Vocabulary, for example, is jointly determined by spoken language and reading. Vocabulary can also be considered a component of both basic skills and comprehension.”

More to say on this additional variance for sure, but I’ll save it for another post! In the meantime, read this paper by Verhoeven and Perfetti with a pen in hand so you can mark it up yourself! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. There’s a ton of gems in there to examine more in depth.


#language #literacy #phonemicawareness #orthography #multilingualism #reading #SVR #writing

In another post, I wrote about the riches of Speech-Language Pathology and what this domain of research and practice has to offer for all educators.

I'd also like to highlight that relatedly, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and it's publications has a lot to offer to those of us getting into the Science of Reading.

Let me just give you a recent example: the “JSLHR Research Symposium Forum: Advances in Specific Language Impairment Research and Intervention” offers some really interesting and useful open access research. Here's some tidbits:

  • There's a useful overview of dyslexia and DLD/SLI from Suzanne Adlof that stresses the need to screen and diagnose language for students who have demonstrated word reading problems because DLD and dyslexia often co-occur

“Considering the frequent comorbidity of dyslexia and SLI, all school-aged children who are identified with word reading problems should receive a thorough language evaluation.” —Suzanne Adlof

  • Spaced retrieval practice has gotten a lot of attention from ResearchEd type folks over the last few years (as it should), and so this piece on its benefits to word learning for students with SLI will be further reaffirming.

  • I found this one by Pamela Hadley on “Exploring Sentence Diversity at the Boundary of Typical and Impaired Language Abilities” especially useful, as while I am fully invested in explicit sentence-level instruction, I sometimes struggle to know exactly what to investigate and unpack in a sentence beyond the basics. In this paper, Hadley provides a neat way to think of linguistic development at the sentence-level:

” a series of four developmental steps: words, verbs, childlike sentences, and adult sentences.”

What she also highlights is how important verbs are as a developmental stage, given the complexity of the function of verbs in a sentence:

“Verbs carry information about the number of participants in an event and the semantic roles of those participants.”

And much more in there to think about!

#ASHA #speech #language #literacy #DLD #dyslexia #learning #children #multilingualism #research