The Bilingual Phonemic Awareness: A Case Study

Essay 2014 8 Pages

American Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Description and Analyses
1. The Alphabet Knowledge Task
2. The Phoneme Segmentation Task
3. Nonsense Word Task
4. Reading Fluency and Comprehension Task
5. Elementary Spelling Inventory

III. Reflection and Recommendation


I. Introduction

This case study attempts to assess a bilingual child’s fluency in phonemic awareness and her skills in reading and writing. The child that was observed for this purpose currently attends the first grade of an elementary school in Long Beach. In terms of keeping the child’s anonymity the pseudonym “Maria” will be used throughout this paper instead of her actual name.

As part of this case study, I observed Maria first in her school classroom. During her reading lesson, Maria seemed to be shy and did not participate in the tasks her teacher assigned the class. For example, while her classmates were singing the alphabet-song altogether with the teacher, Maria did not seem to be interested and was talking to her classmates instead of being engaged in the class activities.

After observing her reading lessons, I met Maria individually to ask her some questions about her language background before starting with the actual assessment: Maria has a multilingual background as she can speak Spanish and English fluently. Also, she can read in both languages. At home, she mostly speaks Spanish with her mother and English with her sisters. Her mother is also the only person who reads stories to her. When she plays on the playground with her friends, she speaks both English and Spanish with them. Maria claimed that reading is easy for her; however, she thinks that it is harder than arithmetic. Maria’s favorite book which she got from the library is called “George” and additionally she has about ten books at home that she likes to read.

II. Description and Analyses

After answering the questions about her language background, Maria was assessed in different areas involving her writing, reading, phonemic awareness and comprehension skills. The assessment took about 30 min and was conducted individually. The test taker was video recorded during the assessment. In the following, the tasks and the student’s results will be analyzed more in detail.

1. The Alphabet Knowledge Task

The first task administered the student’s alphabet knowledge. The student was given a sheet with letters. The first 26 letters were upper case, followed by further 28 lower case letters. The student received the brief instruction, “Here are some letters. I want to see how many you know.” and had to read the letters out loudly.

Overall, Maria’s performance was quite sound in this task. She could read 25 out of 26 upper case and 26 out of 28 lower case letters correctly. The only upper case letter she read in a wrong way was the letter J. So instead of pronouncing it as /ˈjā/, she pronounced the letter as /ˈji/. She made the same mistake with the lower lower case letter j. However, additionally she mistook the letter l with the upper case letter I and therefore spelled it as /aɪ̯/ instead of /ˈel/.

2. The Phoneme Segmentation Task

In the second task, the student received a sheet with 22 different words and was asked to say each sound in the word in order. Maria confirmed that this kind of task was already familiar to her as she would do it often in class with her teacher. This is why she knew what to do when she was given the instruction and did not need any practice items.

In this exercise, Maria could segment 15 out of 22 words correctly. It was evident that the mistakes she made were mostly due to her problems with diphthongs and with the sound /r/. So while she pronounced the sound /a̯ɪ/ in the words ice and fine as /a/ (so /f/ /a/ /n/ for fine and /a/ /s/ for ice), she did not pronounce the sound /r/ in grew or three at all. Furthermore, she had difficulties with the word she, as she could not figure out that /s/ and /h/ are together pronounced as the sound /ʃ/.

3. Nonsense Word Task

In the third task, the student was given a list of 15 nonsense words she had to read out as if they were real words. This task proved to be very difficult for Maria, as she could read only 2 of the words correctly. She did not pay attention to the phonemes of the given words at all. Most of her errors were due to omitting several sounds of the word. So instead of /dein/ she read /dn/; or instead of /mɪŋ/ she just said /mg/. Moreover, she also inserted additional sounds to the words and read the nonsense word gat for instance as /gæpt/. It is also evident that the student was trying to find some meaning in the words although she was told that they were nonsense: this is probably why she pronounced /sɪb/ as /’send’ɪt’aʊt/ or /plut/ as /pʊt/.

4. Reading Fluency and Comprehension Task

As a next step, to assess the child’s reading fluency, Maria was given a list of 20 words. We started with the list ”BB” which is supposed to be the kindergarten level. The goal was for her to read the list with fewer than 5 mistakes and then to continue with a list of a higher level. Her proficiency on this task should determine which story she would read out afterwards. However, in this task, Maria read 10 out of 20 words incorrectly. Evidently, the words she could read without a mistake were mostly words she probably saw more often than other words (eg. ‘and’, ‘we’, ‘the) and which are also shorter than the other words in the list. While she could read at least 3 nouns correctly, she could not read a single verb without a mistake.

Due to her low level of proficiency in this task, Maria received the story with the lowest level. First, her task was to read out the story and to answer some comprehension questions afterwards. While reading the story “The Pink Pig” she again had problems to read those words in the text which include more than three letters (eg pink, just). She either just omitted these words or inserted another word instead. Also, she read the words mud, fat and hot incorrectly and replaced them with words which did not fit the context. In a one-minute reading probe Maria read only 11 words correctly whereas the student fluency norm based on correct per minute (WCPM) states that she should have read 60 wcpm to fulfill the requirements of her grade. Moreover, according to NAEP’s oral reading fluency scale Maria would rank as level 1 which suggests that she has a minimal level of fluency. Also, in the multidimensional fluency scale, Maria would only receive 4 scores from 16. This means that her word recognition is poor and her reading is monotonic, also includes extended pauses and reads slow and laborious.

Maria’s reading mistakes and difficulties affected her answers of the comprehension questions she was supposed to answer afterwards. So she could not answer the questions which required the word she had read incorrectly: for example, in the first question, she needed the word pink to answer the question which color the pig of the story was. As she had omitted the word pink while reading, she just invented a color and gave as answer the color white. Her answer to the second question shows that she actually understood from the context that the pig was playing at a specific place called mud, however as she did not know what the word mud exactly means and had read it as made before. So when answering, she said that the pig went to the mug. Additionally, she then could not provide at the last question a definition for the word mud. Furthermore, as Maria had read in the story hat instead of hot, she answered in the fourth question that the pig was hot because it was wearing a hat.

5. Elementary Spelling Inventory

As a last task, I dictated 25 words and asked Maria to write them down. The instruction was at this point that if she did not know how to spell a word that she just should spell it the best she can writing down all the sounds she felt and heard. In this task, Maria proved a very low writing proficiency in this task having only one word out of 25 in a correct spelling. Mostly, she could only write down the consonants and had difficulties with short vowels. Other vowel patterns were not recognized at all.



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University of Mannheim
bilinguality bilingual phonemic awareness phonemic awareness



Title: The Bilingual Phonemic Awareness: A Case Study