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Review
. 2014 Mar;140(2):409-33.
doi: 10.1037/a0033890. Epub 2013 Aug 12.

Reading Comprehension and Its Underlying Components in Second-Language Learners: A Meta-Analysis of Studies Comparing First- And Second-Language Learners

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Review

Reading Comprehension and Its Underlying Components in Second-Language Learners: A Meta-Analysis of Studies Comparing First- And Second-Language Learners

Monica Melby-Lervåg et al. Psychol Bull. .

Abstract

We report a systematic meta-analytic review of studies comparing reading comprehension and its underlying components (language comprehension, decoding, and phonological awareness) in first- and second-language learners. The review included 82 studies, and 576 effect sizes were calculated for reading comprehension and underlying components. Key findings were that, compared to first-language learners, second-language learners display a medium-sized deficit in reading comprehension (pooled effect size d = -0.62), a large deficit in language comprehension (pooled effect size d = -1.12), but only small differences in phonological awareness (pooled effect size d = -0.08) and decoding (pooled effect size d = -0.12). A moderator analysis showed that characteristics related to the type of reading comprehension test reliably explained the variation in the differences in reading comprehension between first- and second-language learners. For language comprehension, studies of samples from low socioeconomic backgrounds and samples where only the first language was used at home generated the largest group differences in favor of first-language learners. Test characteristics and study origin reliably contributed to the variations between the studies of language comprehension. For decoding, Canadian studies showed group differences in favor of second-language learners, whereas the opposite was the case for U.S. studies. Regarding implications, unless specific decoding problems are detected, interventions that aim to ameliorate reading comprehension problems among second-language learners should focus on language comprehension skills.

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