The Relation Between Reading and Prediction in Biliterate Children

Thematic Section: Literacy in heritage languages

heritage languages, literacy, reading, writing, pedagogy

Jasmijn Bosch, University of Milan-Bicocca
Francesca Foppolo, University of Milan-Bicocca

Previous research suggests that the ability to anticipate spoken language is related to literacy, as shown by differences between literates versus illiterates and by the effect of early reading skills in monolingual children. It has been argued that reading experience trains the core processes of anticipation, but it remains unclear to what extent this effect is modulated by secondary factors, such as vocabulary knowledge. The present study investigated the possible underpinnings of the effect, by focusing on Italian-German bilingual children formally educated in both languages. We tested 28 bilingual third-graders (MAge=8;3) in a visual world eye-tracking paradigm. Participants were presented with two pictures that either matched or mismatched in grammatical gender, accompanied by the Italian sentence Dov’è la/il…? ‘Where is the…?’, so that the target noun could be anticipated during the gender-marked determiner in the mismatch condition but not in the match condition. Standardized reading and vocabulary tests were administered in both languages. Data were analyzed with generalized linear mixed-effect models on the odds of target fixations as a function of condition, time region and reading/vocabulary scores. All reading measures in both languages, including nonword reading, positively influenced the anticipation effect in Italian. Moreover, Italian and German reading scores were more effective than Italian vocabulary knowledge in explaining linguistic prediction in Italian. These results suggest that it is reading experience itself which influences predictive processing, rather than language-specific vocabulary knowledge being the sole underlying source. This supports the notion that (i) reading trains the core processes of prediction, and (ii) cognitive benefits of literacy may transfer across languages in biliterate children.