This study explored the development of children’s reading skills in two transparent orthographies: Estonian and Finnish. Despite Estonian children had formal reading instruction one year earlier and thus better reading skills at the beginning of school, fluency and reading comprehension skills were at the same level across both groups by the end of first grade.
Authors: Piret Soodla, Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen,Pekka Niemi, Eve Kikas, Gintautas Silinskas & Jari-Erik Nurmi
Source: Soodla P., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Niemi, P., Kikas, E., Silinskas, G., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2015). Does early instruction promote the rate of acquisition? A comparison of two transparent orthographies. Learning and Instruction, 38, 14–23. DOI: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2015.02.002
This study explored the development of children’s reading skills in two transparent orthographies: Estonian and Finnish. Formal reading instruction begins one year earlier in Estonia than in Finland. Despite Estonian children having better reading skills at the beginning of school, fluency and reading comprehension skills were at the same level across both groups by the end of first grade. Thus, an earlier start to reading instruction in transparent orthographies does not necessarily offer any long-term advantage.
Learning to read in different languages
The present study compared the development of children’s reading skills during the first school year in two languages with highly transparent and linguistically related orthographies: Estonian and Finnish. Estonian children are expected to have basic decoding skills before their entrance into primary school, whereas in Finland, formal literacy instruction begins in the first grade.
Participants were 433 Estonian children from 22 different classrooms and 353 Finnish children from 137 different classrooms. The participants were in the first grade at school and all had attended kindergarten. Pre-reading skills (letter knowledge and phoneme awareness) were assessed in September. Word reading skills were assessed in both September and April, and reading comprehension was assessed in April.
Beginning of the first grade
End of the first grade
Because of the fast rate of acquisition of decoding skills in transparent orthographies, linguistic comprehension has a greater influence on reading comprehension at the end of the first grade than decoding. Because Finnish children’s listening comprehension and inference-making skills are both strongly supported during kindergarten and first grade by shared reading and other activities with texts, we expect that these activities might also support the development of reading comprehension. Early reading instruction does not necessarily offer any long-term advantage for further success in reading development at school in transparent orthographies. However, support for children’s general language skills and motivation toward letters and books in kindergarten (as well as overall classroom quality and the phoneme-based reading instruction at grade 1) might play a more significant role in the development of emergent reading skills.