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Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology

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Krystina Raymond (1) is currently a PhD candidate in Developmental Psychology and Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). She holds an MA in Child Studies from Concordia University and received her certification in early childhood and special needs education (K-6). She is a bilingual French/English teacher at the New Frontiers School Board in Québec. Her present research examines the effects of phonological awareness interventions on at-risk emergent readers in French immersion programs.  

Dr. Kathleen Hipfner-Boucher (2) is a research scientist in Dr. Chen's Multilingualism and Literacy Lab at OISE/UT.

Dr. Xi Chen's (3) research focuses on bilingual and ELL (English Language Learner) children's language and literacy development. She seeks to understand how children develop metalinguistic and literacy skills in their first language and second language, and whether and how these skills transfer between the two languages. She has a well-established research program examining children in French immersion programs

Let's Talk: Youth Psychology Blog

Learning to read in a second language (L2) is a challenging task for young children. Depending on how reading disabilities are identified, about 15-30% of children are estimated to struggle with this task due to cognitive and linguistic deficits. Research has shown that L2 learners who struggle with reading can become proficient if appropriate interventions are provided (Ludwig et al., 2019). Reading interventions also benefit struggling readers in dual language programs such as French immersion (Wise & Chen, 2010, 2015; Wise, D’Angelo, & Chen, 2016). It is important to note that early interventions, implemented in kindergarten or grade one, are particularly effective for preventing L2 learners from developing reading difficulties (Siegel, 2020).

A deficit in phonological awareness (PA) is common among struggling readers (Serry et al., 2000). PA is a broad term that includes identifying and manipulating different units of oral language at the syllable, onset, rime and phoneme levels (Wagner et al. 1999). Children with low levels of PA benefit from as little as 15 minutes of explicit instruction per day. For young bilingual children, explicit and systematic phonological interventions can be given in their stronger language so that they do not have to wait until oral proficiency is acquired in the L2 to receive support. Generally speaking, an effective intervention covers all aspects of PA. In light of children’s developmental trajectories, larger units (syllables and rimes) are taught before smaller ones (phonemes). When implementing a PA intervention, a facilitator may spend 3-4 weeks on each skill before moving to the next one. Parents can reinforce these skills at home during the same period of time.  

PA skills can be taught through a large variety of activities that are freely available online. For example, in a session that focuses on riming, the facilitator introduces a rime (-ish) by repeating it orally across different words (e.g., fish/wish). The facilitator then helps students distinguish between words that rime and those that do not (e.g., yes = king/ring; no = horse/cow). In a session that targets syllables, students may be asked to count, blend and segment syllables. For example, the child pronounces a word and then claps out the syllables (the child says ta-ble for table and claps twice). In another activity, the child blends syllables to form words (spi/der = spider). Once children have mastered these larger units, they can start working on phonemes. One activity a facilitator may use involves identifying and repeating the initial sounds in words. The child practices matching words with the same initial sounds (doll and duck) and produces the initial sound in the words presented. Oral language activities can be used in combination with print once children start learning to read. 

Early interventions are key for preventing future reading impairments. With guidance, children can draw their attention to small sound segments in words and improve their decoding skills.  For more information on how to design and implement a PA intervention for bilingual children, please refer to the podcast series produced by our Multilingualism & Literacy Lab on supporting struggling readers (Episode 1: 
https://youtu.be/h7LaK7enWcI Episode 2: https://youtu.be/_PwAfG6ZQz8).



Ludwig, C., Guo, K., & Georgiou, G. K. (2019). Are reading interventions for English language learners effective? A meta-analysis. 

Journal of Learning Disabilities, 52(3), 220-231.

Pennington, B. F., & Peterson, R. L. (2015). Development of dyslexia. In A. Pollatsek, & R. Treiman (Eds.), The oxford handbook of reading; the oxford handbook of reading (pp. 361-376, Chapter xvi, 504 Pages) Oxford University Press, New York, NY. 

Serry, T., Rose, M., & Liamputtong, P. (2008). Oral language predictors for the at-risk reader: A review. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology,10(6), 392-403. 

Siegel, L. S. (2020). Early identification and intervention to prevent reading failure: A response to intervention (RTI) initiative. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 37(2), 140-146.

Wagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., Rashotte, C. A., & Pearson, N. A. (1999). Comprehensive test of phonological processing: CTOPP. Austin, TX: Pro-ed.

Wimmer, H., & Goswami, U. (1994). The influence of orthographic consistency on reading development: Word recognition in English and German children. Cognition, 51(1), 91-103.

Wise, N., & Chen, X. (2010). At-risk readers in French immersion: Early identification and early intervention. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 13(2), 128-149.

Wise, N., & Chen, X. (2015). Early intervention for struggling readers in grade one French immersion. Canadian Modern Language Review, 71, 288–306.

Wise, N., D’Angelo, N., & Chen, X., (2016). A school-based intervention for struggling readers in early French immersion. Reading and Writing, 29, 183-205. 


Supporting Bilingual Struggling Readers 
Krystina Raymond, Kathleen Hipfner-Boucher, & Xi Chen