The role of background knowledge in text comprehension for children learning English as an additional language

K Burgoyne, Helen Whiteley, J Hutchinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Children learning English as an additional language (EAL) often experience difficulties with reading comprehension relative to their monolingual peers. While low levels of vocabulary appear to be one factor underlying these difficulties, other factors such as a relative lack of appropriate background knowledge may also contribute. Sixteen children learning EAL and 16 of their monolingual peers, matched for word reading accuracy, were assessed using a standard measure of reading comprehension and an experimental measure of reading comprehension for which relevant background knowledge was taught before assessing understanding. Tests of receptive and expressive vocabulary were also completed. Results confirmed lower levels of reading comprehension for children learning EAL for both standard and ‘background’ controlled measures. Analysis of comprehension by question type on the experimental measure showed that while both groups made use of taught knowledge to answer inferential questions, children learning EAL had specific difficulties with both literal questions and questions requiring the interpretation of a simile. It is suggested that relevant background information should be used to facilitate children's text comprehension. Furthermore, several factors, especially vocabulary differences, but also text search strategies, context use and comprehension monitoring skills, may contribute to the comprehension difficulties experienced by children learning EAL
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-148
JournalJournal of Research in Reading
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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