The Roles of the Speed and Accuracy of Morphological Processing in the Reading Comprehension of Spanish-Speaking Language Minority Learners

Jungjun Park, Rebecca Wiseheart, Michaela Ritter


This study examines morphological awareness performance in 27 low-SES Spanish-English bilingual students in Grades 4 through 7. Given that 1) reading fluency is a strong predictor of reading comprehension and 2) bilingual students with poor comprehension are often slow, albeit accurate readers, the primary goal of this study was to investigate the extent to which speed of morphological processing contributes to both reading fluency and reading comprehension in bilinguals. First, comparisons of accuracy and response times indicated that monolinguals significantly outperformed bilinguals on every measure. Further, hierarchical regression analyses showed that morphological processing speed makes significant, unique contributions to both text reading fluency and reading comprehension which are at least equal to those made by morphological processing accuracy.  These results underscore the important role of morphological processing efficiency in reading comprehension and suggest that interventions targeting the speed of morphological processing may improve reading comprehension skills for bilingual students.



Morphological awareness, language-minority students, reading comprehension, reading fluency

Full Text:



Abu-Rabia, S., Share, D., & Mansour, M. (2003). Word recognition and basic cognitive processes among reading-disabled and normal readers in Arabic. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 16, 423–442.

American National Standards Institute. (1989). American National Standard specifications for audiometers (ANSI S3.6-1989). New York: Acoustical Society of America.

Apel, K., & Thomas-Tate, S. (2009). Morphological awareness skills of fourth-grade African American students. Language, Speech, and Hearing Sciences in Schools, 40, 312-324.

August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Developing literacy in second language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language minority youth and children. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Beck, I. & McKeown, M. (1990). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 2, 789–814). New York: Longman.

Bowers, P. N., Kirby, J. R., & Deacon, S. H. (2010). The effects of morphological instruction on literacy skills: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 80, 144–179.

Brown, L., Sherbenou, R. J., & Johnsen, S. K. (2010). Test of nonverbal intelligence (4th ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Caramazza, A., Laudanna, A., & Romani, C. (1988). Lexical access and inflectional morphology. Cognition, 28, 297-332.

Carlisle, J. F. (1995). Morphological awareness and early reading achievement. In L. Feldman (Ed.) , Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 189-209). Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Carlisle, J. F. (2000). Awareness of the structure and meaning of morphologically complex words: Impact on reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 169-190.

Carlisle, J. F. (2003). Morphology matters in learning to read: A commentary. Reading Psychology, 24, 291–322.

Carlisle, J. F. (2007). Fostering morphological processing, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. In R. K. Wagner, A. E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 78–103). NY: Guilford Press.

Carlisle, J. F., & Katz, L. (2006). Effects of word and morpheme familiarity on reading of derived words. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 19, 669–693.

Carlo, M., August, D., McLaughlin, B., Snow, C., Dressler, C., Lippman, D., Lively, T., & White, C. (2004). Closing the gap: Addressing the vocabulary needs of English language learners in bilingual and mainstream classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 39, 188–215.

Casalis, S.,Colé, P., & Sopo, D. (2004). Morphological awareness and dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 54, 114–138.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Deacon, S. H. (2011). Sounds, letters and meanings: The independent influences of phonological, morphological and orthographic skills on early word reading accuracy. Journal of Research in Reading, 35, 456–475.

Deacon, S. H., & Kirby, J. R. (2004). Morphological awareness: Just “more phonological”? The roles of morphological and phonological awareness in reading development. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 223–238.

Derwing, B. L., Smith, M. L., & Wiebe, G. E. (1995). On the role of spelling in morpheme recognition: Experimental studies with children and adults. In L. B. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 3–27). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Dowhower, S. (1987). Aspects of repeated reading on second-grade transitional readers fluency and comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly 22, 389-406.

Dunn L. M., Padilla, E. R., Lugo, D. E., & Dunn, L. M. (1986). Test de Vocabulario en Imágenes Peabody (TVIP). Circle Pines, MN: AGS Publishing.

Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (2006). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (4th ed.). Bloomington, MN: Pearson Education.

Empirisoft Corporation (2012). User’s Guide and Reference MediaLab v2012. New York: Empirisoft Corporation.

Fowler, A. E., & Liberman, I. Y. (1995). The role of phonology and orthography in morphological awareness. In L. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 157-188). Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Fuchs, L.S., Fuchs, D., Hosp, M.K., & Jenkins, J.R. (2001). Oral reading fluency as an indicator of reading competence: A theoretical, empirical, and historical analysis. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5, 239–256.

Goodwin, A. P., & Ahn, S. (2010). A meta-analysis of morphological interventions: Effects on literacy achievement of children with literacy difficulties. Annals of Dyslexia, 60, 183–208.

Goodwin, A. P., Huggins, A., Carlo, M., Malabonga, V., Kenyon, D., Louguit, M., & August, D. (2011). Development and validation of extract the base: An English derivational morphology test for third through fifth grade monolingual students and Spanish-speaking English language learners. Language Testing, 29, 265-289.

Grosjean, F. (2001). The bilingual’s language modes. In J. Nicol (ed.),One mind, two languages: Bilingual language processing (pp. 1–22). Oxford: Blackwell.

Hernandez, D. J., Denton, N., & Macartney, S. E. (2007). Children in immigrant families—The U.S. and 50 States: National origins, language, and early education. Albany, NY: Center for Social and Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, SUNY.

Hollingshead, A. A. (1975). Four-factor index of social status. Unpublished manuscript, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Jia, G., Kohnert, K., Collado, J. & Aquino-Garcia, F. (2006) Action naming in Spanish and English by sequential bilingual children and adolescents. Journal of Speech Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 588-602.

Kieffer, M. J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2008). The role of derivational morphological awareness in the reading comprehension of Spanish-speaking English language learners. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21, 783–804.

Kieffer, M. J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2010). Morphing into adolescents: Active word learning for English language learners and their classmates in middle school. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54, 47–56.

Kieffer, M. J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2012). Development of morphological awareness and vocabulary knowledge for Spanish-speaking language minority learners: A parallel process growth model. Applied Psycholinguistics, 33, 25–54.

Kieffer, M. J., Biancarosa, G., & Mancilla-Martinez, J. (2013). Roles of morphological awareness in English reading comprehension for Spanish-speaking language minority learners: Exploring partial mediation by vocabulary and reading fluency. Applied Psycholinguistics, 34, 697-725.

Kirby, J. R., Deacon, S. H., Bowers, P. N., Izenberg, L., Wade-Woolley, L., & Parrila, R. (2012). Children's morphological awareness and reading ability. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 25, 389–410.

Koda, K. (2008). Impacts of prior literacy experience on second language learning to read. In Koda & A. Zehler (Eds.), Learning to Read Across Languages. Cross-Linguistic Relationships in First and Second-Language Literacy Development (pp. 68-96). New York: Routledge.

Koda, K., Takahashi, E., & Fender, M. (1998). Effects of L1 processing experience on L2 morphological awareness. Ilha do Desterro, 35, 59–87.

Kohnert, K. J., Bates, E., & Hernandez, A. E. (1999). Balancing bilinguals: Lexical-semantic production and cognitive processing in children learning Spanish and English. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42, 1400–1413.

Kuo, L., & Anderson, R. C. (2006). Morphological Awareness and Learning to Read: A Cross-Language Perspective. Educational Psychologist, 41, 161-180.

Leong, C. K. (2000). Rapid processing of base and derived forms of words and grades 4, 5, and 6 children’s spelling. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 277–302.

Lesaux, N. K. (2006). (with Koda, K., Siegel, L. S. & Shanahan, T). Development of literacy in language minority learners. In D. L. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing literacy in a second language: Report of the National Literacy Panel (pp. 75–122.) Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Lesaux, N. K., & Kieffer, M. J. (2010). Exploring sources of reading comprehension difficulties among language minority learners and their classmates in early adolescence. American Educational Research Journal, 47, 596-632.

Mahony, D. (1994). Using sensitivity to word structure to explain variance in high school and college level reading ability. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 6, 19–44.

Marian, V. & Spivey, M. (2003). Comparing bilingual and monolingual processing of competing lexical items. Applied Psycholinguistics, 24, 173–193.

McBride-Chang, C., Shu, H., Ng, J. Y. W., Meng, X., & Penney, T., (2007). Morphological structure awareness, vocabulary, and reading. In R. K. Wagner, A. E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 104–122). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Menken, K. (2008). English Learners Left Behind: Standardized Testing as Language Policy. Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

Nagy, W. E., Kuo-Kealoha, A., Wu, X., Li, W., Anderson, R. C., & Chen, X. (2002). The role of morphological awareness in learning to read Chinese. In W. Li, J. S. Gaffney, & J. L. Packard (Eds.), Chinese language acquisition: Theoretical and pedagogical issues (pp. 59–86). Norwell, MA: Kluwer.

Nagy, W. E., Osborn, J., Winsor, P. & O’Flahavan, J. (1994). Structural analysis: Some guidelines for instruction. In F. Lehr and J. Osborn (Eds.), Reading, language, and literacy: Instruction for the twenty-first century (pp. 45–58). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Nagy, W., Berninger, V. W., & Abbott, R. D. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle-school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 134-147.

Nagy, W., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Vaughan, K., & Vermeulen, K. (2003). Relationship of morphology and other language skills to literacy skills in at-risk second grade readers and at-risk fourth grade writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 730-742.

Park, J. & Lombardino, L. J. (2012). A Comparison of Phonological Processing Skills of Children With Mild to Moderate Sensorineural Hearing Loss and Children With Dyslexia. American Annals of the Deaf, 157, 289-306.

Park, J. & Lombardino, L. J. & Ritter, M. (2013). Phonology Matters: A Comprehensive Investigation of Reading and Spelling Skills of School-Age Children With Mild to Moderate Sensorineural Hearing Loss. American Annals of the Deaf, 158, 20-40.

Pasquarella, A., Chen, C., Lam, K., Luo, Y. C., & Ramirez, G. (2011). Cross-language transfer of morphological awareness in Chinese–English bilinguals. Journal of Research in Reading, 34, 23–42.

Perfetti, C. A. (1988). Verbal efficiency theory in reading ability. In M. Daneman, G. E. MacKinnon, & T. G. Waller (Eds.), Reading Research: Advances in Theory and Practice (pp. 109-143). New York: Academic Press.

Perfetti, C. A., & Hart, L. (2001). The lexical bases of comprehension skill. In D. S. Gorfien (Ed.), On the consequences of meaning selection: Perspectives on resolving lexical ambiguity (pp. 67–86). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Ramirez, G., Chen-Bumgardner, B., Geva, E., & Kiefer, H. (2010). Morphological awareness in Spanish-English bilingual children: within and cross-language effects on word reading. Reading and Writing, 23, 337-358.

Ramirez, G., Chen-Bumgardner, B., Geva, E., & Luo, Y. (2011). Morphological awareness and vocabulary in ELLs. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32, 601-618.

Rastle, K. & Davis, M. H. (2008). Morphological decomposition based on the analysis of orthography. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23, 942-971.

Reardon, S. F., & Galindo, C. (2006). Patterns of Hispanic students’ math and English literacy test scores in the early elementary grades. Tempe, AZ: National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics.

Roman, A. A., Kirby, J. R., Parrila, R. K., Wade-Woolley, L. L., & Deacon, S. H. (2009). Toward a comprehensive view of the skills involved in word reading in grades 4, 6, and 8. Journal Of Experimental Child Psychology, 102, 96-113.

Semel, E. M., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (2003). Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (4th ed.). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.

Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Shu, H., McBride-Chang, C., Wu, S., & Liu, H. (2006). Understanding Chinese developmental dyslexia: Morphological awareness as a core cognitive construct. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 122–133.

Singson, M., Mahony, D. & Mann, V. (2000). The relation between reading ability and morphological skills: Evidence from derivation suffixes. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 219-252.

Strong, A. C., Wehby, J. H., Falk, K. B., & Lane, K. L. (2004). The impact of a structured reading curriculum and repeated reading on the performance of junior high students with emotional and behavioral disorders. School Psychology Review, 33, 561–581.

Taft, M. (2004). Morphological decomposition and the reverse base frequency effect. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 57, 745–765.

Taft, M., & Kougious, P. (2004). The processing of morpheme-like units in monomorphemic words. Brain and Language, 90, 9–16.

Tong, X., Deacon, S., Kirby, J. R., Cain, K., & Parrila, R. (2011). Morphological awareness: A key to understanding poor reading comprehension in English. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 523-534.

Torgesen, J. K., Rashotte, C. A., & Alexander, A. W. (2001). Principles of fluency instruction in reading: Relationships with established empirical outcomes. In M. Wolf (Ed.), Dyslexia, fluency and the brain (pp. 333–355). Timonium, MD: York Press.

Tractenberg, R. E. (2002). Exploring hypotheses about phonological awareness, memory, and reading achievement. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 407-424.

Verhoeven, L., Baayen, H., & Schreuder, R. (2004). Orthographic constraints and frequency effects in complex word identification. Written language and literacy, 7, 49–59.

Wagner, R., & Torgesen, J. (1987). The nature of phonological processes and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 192–212.

Wagner, R., Torgesen, J., & Rashotte, C. (1999a). Test of Word Reading Efficiency: Examiner’s manual. Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed.

Wagner, R., Torgesen, J., & Rashotte, C. (1999b). Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing: Examiner’s Manual. Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed.

Wiederholt, J., & Bryant, B. (2001). Gray Oral Reading Tests (4th edition). Austin, Texas: Pro-ed.

Woodcock, R. (1998). Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised. American Guidance Service. Minnesota: Circle Pines.

Zhang, D., & Koda, K. (2012). Contribution of morphological awareness and lexical inferencing ability to L2 vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension among advanced EFL learners: Testing direct and indirect effects. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 25, 1195–1216.

Zhang, J., Anderson, R.C., Li, H., Dong, Q., Wu, X. & Zhang, Y. (2010). Cross-language transfer of insight into the structure of compound words. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23, 311–336.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.