Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2012. Vol.2, No.4, 131-139
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 131
A Study into the Results of an Intervention Program of
Linguistic Skills in English (L2) and Its Effect on Hebrew (L1)
among Poor Readers: An Examination of the
Cognitive-Retroactive Transfer (CRT) Hypothesis
Salim Abu-Rabia, Dana Bluestein-Danon
Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Received July 30th, 2012; revised August 27th, 2012; accepted September 3rd, 2012
The present study examined whether an improvement in English as a second language causes an im-
provement among poor readers in Hebrew as the first language. This assumption is named in the present
study “The Cognitive-Retroactive Transfer (CRT) hypothesis of linguistic skills”. The participants were
20 sixth-grade poor readers from Israeli elementary schools, with Hebrew as their first language, and who
learn English as their second language. All the students in the program participated in small group in-
struction sessions that emphasized linguistic and meta-linguistic skills in the second language (English).
The program, which was administered over a 5-month period, involved approximately 40 hours of contact
with a trained instructor. The participants were administered various tests which measured their basic
linguistic skills in English as well as in Hebrew. The tests were as follows: phonological awareness, pho-
nological processing, word identification, reading fluency, reading comprehension, morphological aware-
ness, syntactic awareness, orthographic knowledge and spelling. The tests in both languages were given to
the participants before and after the intervention program. The test results indicated significant differ-
ences both in English and in Hebrew before and after the intervention program for all linguistic skills
(except orthographic knowledge). The findings provide scientific support for the Cognitive-Retroactive
Transfer (CRT) hypothesis, which means that an improvement in linguistic and meta-linguistic skills in a
second language will be expected to give rise to a similar improvement in the first language as well. The
results are discussed in light of the findings in the literature as well as suggestions for future research.
Keywords: English as a Second Language; Hebrew as the First Language; Cognitive-Retroactive Transfer
(CRT) Hypothesis; Meta-Cognitive Abilities; Modular Process
It is generally accepted that poor readers suffer significant
difficulties in learning a second language (Geva, Yaghoub-
Zadeh, & Schuster, 2000). Specifically, poor readers with low
linguistic skills on their first language will also present low
linguistic skills on their second language. The reason for the
difficulties being that the same meta-linguistic skills related to
literacy, such as phonological awareness, orthographic knowl-
edge, syntactic awareness, etc., are common to all languages, so
that poor skills in one language will be manifested as poor
skills in a second language (Geva, 1995). That is to say, diffi-
culties of poor readers in a second language are as a result of
poor skills in the first language (Leikin, Share, & Schwartz,
2005). The consequence is that improved linguistic skills in a
first language will also result in improved linguistic skills in a
second language. The question is does this phenomenon can
take place in the opposite way as well.
The purpose of the present study is to check whether im-
provement in literacy meta-linguistic skills in English as a sec-
ond language will result in improved similar skills in Hebrew
as a first language. This phenomenon will be labeled in this
study as Cognitive Retroactive Transfer—CRT. It can be as-
sumed that a poor reader who learns literacy in a particular
language (even if it is a second language) will reach, by a spe-
cial method fitted for his/her specific needs, higher meta-lin-
guistic awareness in this language. Since studies made in this
realm show that linguistic skills in the first language are trans-
ferred to a second language, it is assumed that these skills could
also be transferred from a second to a first language. Thereby, a
CRT phenomenon will be taking place. Since this subject has
not yet been researched empirically, it is taken as a framework
for this study.
Reading Development in L2
The research literature for the development of reading skills
in a second language raises the following questions: Will lin-
guistic skills that were found as effective for predicting acquisi-
tion of reading skills in a first language also predict acquisition
of reading skills in a second language? Also, is it possible to
identify difficulties for a subject learning a second language by
his/her skills in the first language? There are various studies
examining those questions. For example, there are findings
indicating that phonological awareness in a first language (L1)
predicts decoding skills and word identification not only in the
L1 but also in a second language (L2) (Cisero & Royer, 1995).
Additional studies found that phonological decoding in the L1
is highly correlated with acquisition of reading skills in the L2;
Phonological awareness was determined as a major component
in predicting reading achievements in two languages, inde-
pendent to the nature of the native tongue (Muter & Diethelm,
2001; Quiroda, Lemos-Britton, Mostafapour, Abbott, & Bern-
inger, 2002).
In relation to this skill of phonological awareness, it was ar-
gued that since the segmentation of a word to its phonemes is
not specific for a given language, then it stands to reason that
when this ability is well developed for one language, it will be
well developed for another language as well, and will serve as a
base for decoding skills in general (Koda, 2007).
Sparks (1995) argued that not only does phonological aware-
ness in the L1 contribute to learning the L2, but also other skills
of the first language assist in learning the second language. He
indicated that skills, such as phonology, orthography, syntax
and semantics, in writing and speech in the first language-serve
as a base for successful learning of a second language. He as-
sumed as well that learning both first and second languages
depend on basic mechanisms for language acquisition and that
problems in certain skills, like phonological or orthographical
processing, will have negative influence on both first and sec-
ond language learning.
In other studies which investigated reading skills in a second
language among poor readers, it was found that they present
difficulties in phonological processing, syntax awareness and
working memory as poor readers in the first language (Abu-
Rabia & Siegel, 2003). Also, in the studies of Leikin and col-
leagues (2005), it was found that failure in phonological aware-
ness in the first language among children with Russian as the
native tongue constituted the major difficulty in acquiring He-
brew reading skills as a second language. In another study by
Gholamain & Geva (1999), where a significant correlation was
found between phonological awareness in the first language and
second language, a weak phonological awareness among poor
readers in both languages was also present.
There is an assumption relating to causes of difficulties in se-
cond language reading. According to this assumption, in order
to read in a second language, a level of second language lin-
guistic ability must first be achieved. This is the Linguistic
Threshold Hypothesis (Cummins, 1991). Cummins defined the
“Linguistic Threshold” as a certain level of morphological,
syntactic and lexical knowledge in a foreign language. Readers
with a low “Linguistic Threshold” will find it difficult to use
reading comprehension strategies from L1 to L2. In contrast,
readers with a high “Linguistic Threshold” will not have prob-
lems in transferring these skills (Lee & Schallert, 1997).
Despite the prevalent belief that poor first language readers
will have difficulties in reading a second language, surprisingly
some other studies had opposite results. For instance, Sparks,
Philips, & Javorsky (2003) found that students with reading
disabilities do not necessarily suffer learning difficulties in a
second language. This is because most of the students in their
study had their second language courses in an academic insti-
tute with their grades being average and above.
Also, in another research conducted in Sweden, a number of
English teachers reported cases where students with learning
disabilities read English as an L2 better than Swedish as an L1.
These students preferred reading English texts and performed
better in English classes than in Swedish (Miller-Guron &
Lundberg, 2000). They reasoned that social, emotional and
motivational factors could be behind the observation. It is a fact
that many children are exposed to English through TV, com-
puter and music—a factor that assists in the learning process.
Furthermore, differences in the orthographies between the two
languages could also take parts. In a study that tested the influ-
ence of orthography in a first language on reading speed and
comprehension, it was found that English texts as L1 were read
significantly faster than Hebrew texts as L1, and this despite the
fact that the English texts contained 40% more words (Shimron
& Sivan, 1994). These authors claimed that differences in the
orthographic character of a language play a role in this matter.
Characterization of En gl i sh and Hebrew
In order to show how the differences in orthographic charac-
ter can affect reading development, the following review is
Hebrew is written from right to left and all verbs and most
nouns contain consonantal roots, which are combined with
additional letters to form words. When Hebrew is written with
vowel symbols (vowelized Hebrew), it is considered orthogra-
phically “shallow”, reflecting a direct and consistent grapheme-
phoneme correspondence (Eviatar & Ibrahim, 2004). When He-
brew is written without the vowel symbols (unvowelized He-
brew), it is considered to be orthographically “deep”, meaning
that the grapheme-phoneme correspondence is unpredictable
(Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 2003). The vowelized Hebrew appears
mainly in texts for beginning readers, whereas the unvowelized
Hebrew is for skilled readers. This situation means that an un-
vowelized word could be pronounced in different ways. The
skilled reader must rely on the context of the word in the sen-
tence in order to pronounce it correctly.
The English language, on the other hand, is written from left
to right and is considered to be orthographically “deep” (Abu-
Rabia & Siegel, 2003). Also, the vowels are represented by
means of letters, which are part of the alphabet and appear
within the words themselves, so that unlike Hebrew, words are
written identically for beginners and skilled readers alike (Abu-
Rabia & Siegel, 2003). As a result, readers of English must rely
more on the orthography of the word and less on the phono-
logical processing.
It is argued that while developing reading skills among indi-
viduals with reading disabilities, because of their difficulty in
phonological processing, it is possible that they learned to pay
more attention to the visual orthography form of the word,
rather than its pronunciation (Siegel, Share, & Geva, 1995).
The consequence of that for this kind of readers is that reading
a “deep” orthographic language which requires the use of or-
thographic processing, will constitute for them an easier task
compared to reading a “shallow” orthographic language, such
as vowelized Hebrew, where phonological processing is neces-
sary (Siegel et al., 1995). Koda (1999) found that the closer the
orthographies of a first and a second language, the easier it is
for students to reach quicker and more accurate word identifi-
cation in a second language.
Linguistic Interdependence Hypothesis—
The Cross-Language Tran sfer of Linguistic Skills
A hypothesis introduced by Cummins (1991), called the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Linguistic Interdependence Hypothesis, assumes that if the ex-
ternal environment provides an adequate stimulus for preserva-
tion of a first language, then intensive exposure to a second
language at school will contribute significantly to a bilingual
development, without having any negative influences on the
first language. It was also argued that in the extent of which an
effective teaching program advances literacy in a certain lan-
guage, transfer of that linguistic knowledge to an other lan-
guage will occur, in the condition of adequate exposure to the
other language and also adequate motivation to learn the lan-
This hypothesis predicts that in a bilingual program, teaching
reading skills in one language not only improves literacy in that
language, but also leads to a deep conceptual linguistic knowl-
edge, which significantly related to literacy and to general aca-
demic skills in an other language. In other words, although
superficially certain aspects, such as orthography or fluency,
seem to develop separately, a cognitive academic basis exists
for all languages. These basic and common abilities facilitate
the transfer of cognitive academic skills relating to literacy that
are common to all languages (Cummins, 1991). Research data
which support the above hypothesis will be presented in the
next section.
Inter-Linguistic Skills and the Difficulties in
Processing Different Orthographies
Evidence for the transfer of phonological skills between lan-
guages was found in many studies. For instance, in a study that
investigated the inter-linguistic connection in phonological and
orthographic components among bilingual children learning to
read in two alphabetic languages—Korean and English, a very
high correlation was found between phonological skills in the
first and second languages (Wang, Park, & Lee, 2006). In this
study, a significant correlation was also found between phono-
logical skills in Korean and reading of words and non-words in
English. More evidence for the transfer of phonological skills
between languages was found in another study (Verhoeven,
1994), where significant correlation between phonological skills
in the L1 (Turkish) and L2 (Dutch) was found.
As for orthographic skills which are required for the reading
process as well, it was found that among bilingual children
learning to read English and Korean, no significant correlation
was found between the orthographic skills in the two languages
(Wang et al., 2006). It should be noted that whereas English is
recognized as having a “deep” orthographic character, Korean
is a “shallow” orthographic language. Also, in another study
which investigated transfer of skills between English and Chi-
nese (a non-alphabetic language), it was found that Chinese
orthographic skills did not predict reading skills performance in
English (Wang, Perfetti, & Liu, 2005).
As for reading comprehension skills, evidence is presented
showing that reading comprehension in a first language con-
tributes to comprehension in a second language (Van Gelderen
et al., 2004). A theory that explains the connection between
various components in a second language and reading compre-
hension argues that reading comprehension in a second lan-
guage involves mainly application of metacognitive skills (Good-
man, 1971). Metacognitive reading skill is the ability to use
strategies in order to regulate the reading process. For instance,
reading a text for the purpose of locating a piece of information
requires another type of strategy than reading a text for the
purpose of memorizing. The method whereby a reader adjusts
his strategies according to the specific purpose reflects his me-
tacognitive skills.
Evidence for inter-linguistic reading fluency as defined in
terms of speed and accuracy was found in a study where read-
ing fluency development was examined among first and second
grade children studying concurrently English as the L1 and
Hebrew as the L2 (Geva, Wade-Wooley, & Shany, 1997). In
this study, it was found that despite different orthographies
between English and the vowelized Hebrew (with vowel sym-
bols), a significant correlation exists between the accuracy and
speed of reading isolated words in one language and that of the
other language. Also, in another research testing reading flu-
ency in Spanish as the L1 and English as the L2 among primary
school pupils (grades 1 - 6), the results show a positive signifi-
cant correlation between fluencies in English and Spanish
(Domínguez De Ramírez & Shapiro, 2007).
As for spelling skills, a study looking for components in a
first language, which will predict reading and spelling perfor-
mance in a second language, discovered that the linguistic com-
ponents which were very useful in predicting spelling perform-
ance in a second language were the spelling and phonological
awareness in a first language (Sparks, Patton, Ganschow, Hum-
bach, & Javorsky, 2008). Furthermore, in a study by Abu Rabia
& Siegel (2002), it was also found that a positive and signifi-
cant relation exists between spelling skills of children whose
first language is Arabic and second language English.
As for cross-linguistic syntactic awareness, it was found in a
study investigating orthographic and cognitive factors in two
languages, that a strong correlation exists between the syntactic
awareness in Hebrew as the L1 and that in English as the L2
(Geva & Siegel, 2000). It was argued that proficiency in syn-
tactic awareness demands of the reader metalinguistic insight
allowing the subject to discern the internal grammatical struc-
ture of sentences (Durgunoğlu, 2002). Similar findings were
found in another study, where syntactical awareness in Spanish
as the L1 among students in the 4th grade, was highly corre-
lated with syntactical awareness in English as the L2 (Durguno-
ğlu, Mir, & Ariño-Martí, 2002).
In relation to cross-linguistic transfer of morphological aware-
ness, very few studies have dealt with the subject, resulting in
scant knowledge in this area. In one of the few studies (Wang,
Cheng, & Chen, 2006), the contribution of morphological aware-
ness towards reading Chinese as the L1 and English as the L2,
was evaluated. It was found that morphological awareness of
compound structures in English contributed to variance in both
character reading and reading comprehension in Chinese. The
authors concluded that children are able to apply morphological
knowledge from one language to reading in another language
that shares a similar morphological structure.
Regarding the development of literacy skills, it is claimed
that even when a similarity exists in the process of acquiring
those skills in alphabetical languages, there are still inter-lin-
guistic differences that create variance in the process of reading
development between languages. Based on the Psycholinguistic
Grain Size Theory (Ziegler & Goswami, 2005), there are lan-
guages in which the beginning reader has to face a problem of
inconsistency, where a given language has several forms of
pronunciations for the same orthographic units and some pho-
nological units have a number of spelling forms. The assump-
tion is that both types of inconsistency slow reading develop-
ment. Since the extent of the inconsistency varies from lan-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 133
guage to language, there will be differences in reading devel-
opment between languages.
According to the theory, reading acquisition will be easier
and more rapid in those orthographies where a direct relation
exists between graphemes and phonemes (“shallow orthogra-
phies”). In this case, readers rely mainly on strategies of de-
coding graphemes into phonemes. This means that children
learning to read a language where the orthography is less con-
sistent (“deep orthography”) will have greater difficulties.
The authors of the Psycholinguistic Grain Size Theory em-
phasized that the different orthographies influence reading de-
velopment among dyslectic readers as well (Ziegler & Gos-
wami, 2005). By this theory, although a phonologic deficit
characterizes dyslexia in all languages, the deficit is expected to
be more widespread among dyslectic individuals who are learn-
ing to read and write in a language that its orthography is con-
sidered deep. The authors claimed that despite the phonological
deficit, there are still dyslectic readers who manage to achieve
accurate decoding of the grapheme-phoneme relationship—in
those alphabetical orthographies that are considered shallow.
This is because very little ambiguity exists in decoding such
orthographies. Such a claim points out that the major difficulty
of children with dyslexia is in the phonological processing of
small grain size words and sections (corresponding to graph-
emes and phonemes) with no regard to the orthography being
Our present study is based on the assumption that an inter-
dependent linguistic transfer from the L1 to the L2 will take
place also from the L2 (English) to the L1 (Hebrew). Specifi-
cally, an improvement of linguistic and metalinguistic skills in
a second language will bring about better performance in the
same skills of the first language, following an intensive and
systematic instruction program that focuses on the child's di-
dactic needs. Such an improvement in a first language will be
called Cognitive Retroactive Transfe r—CRT.
In this study, 20 Israeli 6th grade students who speak Hebrew
as their first language were the participants. They all came from
a middle socio-economic level, studying in an ordinary ele-
mentary school. These students were defined by their home-
room teacher as “weak learners” in both Hebrew and English,
with an average grade below 70. They had all been exposed to
English classes since the 3rd grade. The students were picked at
random from three different schools in Haifa, Israel. The sam-
ple included 9 boys and 11 girls with a combined average of
11.6 years of age.
After receiving written consent from their parents, the stu-
dents were tested for fluency and reading comprehension in
both languages. The students that received lower than a 70%
grade in reading comprehension in both languages, lower than
100 correct words per minute in reading fluency in Hebrew,
and lower than 50 correct words per minute in reading fluency
in English, were classified as poor readers.
There were a total of 22 tests—11 in each language:
Phonology Awareness Tests in English and Hebrew. Pho-
nology awareness was tested by two types of assignments:
analysis task and synthesis task. In the analysis task each par-
ticipant was presented with 8 spoken words, which he had to
segment into their phonemes. Examples are: bed (=b-e-d),
funny (=f-u-nn-y). In the synthesis task each participant was
presented with 8 sequences of phonemes, and in each sequence
he had to combine the phonemes to form a complete word.
Examples are: l-e-g (=leg), t-ea-ch-e-r (=teacher). The English
versions were developed by Kahn-Horwitz (2006). The Hebrew
versions were developed by Shany, Lachman, Shalem, Bahat,
& Zeiger (2005). The percentage of correct responses out of the
total was calculated.
Phonological Processing Test in English and Hebrew. Pho-
nological processing was examined by the ability of the par-
ticipants to read nonwords. In the English version each partici-
pant was requested to read aloud 20 meaningless words (Kahn-
Horwitz, 2006). In the Hebrew version each participant was
requested to read aloud 33 meaningless vowelized words (Shany
et al., 2005). Examples of the words used include: ves, lun,
grack, and shriff. The percentage of correct responses out of the
total was calculated.
Word Identification Test in English and Hebrew. Each par-
ticipant was requested to read aloud 46 words in the English
version (Kahn-Horwitz, 2006) and 38 words in the Hebrew
version (Shany et al., 2005), which were listed in an increasing
order of difficulty. Examples are: stop, cat, chicken, number,
soap and jumped. The percentage of correct responses out of
the total was calculated.
Orthographic Knowledge Test in English and Hebrew. Par-
ticipants were presented with 20 homophonic pairs of words (in
each pair two words sound identical but are written differently),
and in each pair they had to mark the one word that was spelled
correctly. The English version was developed by Kahn-Horwitz
(2006). The Hebrew version was developed by Shany et al.
(2005). The percentage of correct responses out of the total was
Morphological Awareness Tests in English and Hebrew.
Morphological awareness was tested by two types of assign-
ments: One was a recognition test in which the participants
were presented with 10 sentences in the English version and 9
sentences in the Hebrew version. The participants were asked to
fill in the missing word in the sentence from a list of words
underneath each sentence. All the words that were referred to
the same sentence are inflections of the same infinitive/root.
Examples are: I _____ television last night (watch, am watch-
ing, watched); Tal ____ pizza every Monday (eat, eats, is eat-
ing). The other test was a production task in which the partici-
pants were presented as well with 10 sentences in the English
version and 9 sentences in the Hebrew version. In this task each
participant was requested to fill in a missing word in a sentence
using a word, the root/infinitive of which was presented. Ex-
amples are: ____ (do) you go to the concert last week? Tomer
____ (read) a book every night. The English versions were
developed by Kahn-Horwitz (2006). The Hebrew versions were
developed by Shany et al. (2005). The percentage of correct
responses out of the total was calculated.
Syntactic Awareness Test in English and Hebrew. Syntactic
awareness in English and in Hebrew was examined differently.
In the English version the participants were presented with 12
sentences in which the correct order of the words was mixed up,
and the participants had to reorganize the words in the right
order (Kahn-Horwitz, 2006). The sentences were listed in an
increasing order of difficulty. Examples are: are-home-We
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
(=We are home); a-dog-have-You (=You have a dog). In the
Hebrew version the participants were presented with a short
text that contains compound sentences, in which an identifica-
tion of a subject had to be made from a pronoun in the sentence
(Shany et al., 2005). For example: “A lonely sailor found a
lonely little boy in the street and adopted him”. The question to
be answered is “what does the word him refer to?” The per-
centage of correct responses out of the total was calculated.
Spelling Test in English and Hebrew. This skill was tested
through dictation. In the English version the participants had to
write down 3 sentences (20 words in total) dictated to them
(Kahn-Horwitz, 2006). For example: “The dolphin swims in the
deep water”. In the Hebrew version the participants were re-
quested to write down a short text (55 words in total) also dic-
tated to them (Shany et al., 2005). The percentage of correct
responses out of the total was calculated.
Reading Comprehension Test in English and Hebrew. In the
English version the participants were requested to read a text
nonverbally and then answer 10 multiple choice questions. The
text was taken from a textbook (Vasan, 2000) and the questions
were composed by the authors for this study. In the Hebrew
version the participants were requested also to read a text non-
verbally and then answer 5 open ended questions pertaining to
reading comprehension (Tov-Li, 2000). The percentage of cor-
rect responses out of the total was calculated.
Reading Fluency in English and Hebrew. The participants
were given a text to be read aloud. The English version con-
tained 51 words (Kahn-Horwitz, 2006). The Hebrew text con-
tained 308 words (Shany et al., 2005). Accuracy and speed
were graded by calculating the number of words that were read
correctly during one minute of reading.
At the start, a battery of tests was given to the participants in
order to test their linguistic and metalinguistic skills in both
Hebrew and English. To reduce the interference on the results
from tiredness of the participants, the order of the tests admin-
istered was rotated. The results of the tests in this phase were
used for establishing a base line for comparison with the results
obtained at the end of the intervention program. The tests were
administered individually by one of the authors at the partici-
pants’ home in a quiet room. All instructions were given in
Hebrew, L1. The tests were administered in two sessions of
approximately 60 minutes each—in each session all the tests
were given in one of the two languages.
Upon completion of the tests and the analysis of the results,
an intervention program was designed taking into account the
weak and strong competencies of the participants. Since all of
the participants exhibited a low level in all skills of English, it
was decided to work with the participants on four major aspects,
so that all the skills tested were covered in the intervention
program. The linguistic aspects are as follows:
1) Decoding—Recognition of letters and their sounds; recog-
nition of the sound of vowels and common combinations of
letters, such as: th, ph, oo, ea, ch. Also, learning the pronuncia-
tion of common English forms of words, such as: bake-game-
made-snake; time-fine-like-bite, etc. and finally learning fre-
quent word endings (for example: tion, sion). All of that was
practiced by reading isolated words. In addition, approximately
twice a month, an oral practice session was conducted in which
a participant was asked to segment a spoken word into pho-
nemes, as well as synthesize phonemes into complete words.
This practice was done in order to increase phonological aware-
2) Vocabulary—Expanding vocabulary was done by flashing
frequently-used words, where the participants had to learn their
meaning. As a practice of the vocabulary, the participants had
to compose sentences using the words learned. They also had to
translate into English short phrases. In every new session, a
repetition of the previously-taught words was made before new
words were introduced. All the words learned were given also
printed in a list, so the participants could study them at home.
Approximately every two weeks, a dictation was conducted on
words taken from that list.
3) Grammar—A gradual and systematic instruction of the
following grammar subjects was undertaken: the use of “a/an”;
the auxiliary verb “to be”; have/has; present simple; present
progressive; past simple. The learning of the tenses included
declarative sentences, interrogative sentences and negative,
using supporting cards which specify the appropriate gram-
matical rules. The participants practiced all the grammar rules
by completing work sheets in class and later at home. The syn-
tax aspect was also learned by an instruction of the syntactical
rules regarding the correct order of words in an English sen-
tence. The practice included mixing up the correct order of
words in a sentence and requiring participants to reorganize it
4) Reading—The participants practiced fluent reading of
texts with emphasis on speed and accuracy. Exercising reading
speed was performed by repeated reading of the same text/
paragraph. In the following session, a practice of reading com-
prehension skills of the same text took place. The comprehend-
sion skills and strategies that were practiced were: making pre-
dictions and activating prior knowledge, figuring out unknown
words, locating information in the text, story retelling and fi-
nally giving a title to each paragraph.
In summary, the intervention program was composed of a se-
ries of lessons in which English linguistic skills were studied.
Both the supporting cards and the work sheets were prepared by
the authors themselves. Every session was carried out by a
teacher and two students in a quiet and isolated room. From the
beginning, the students participating in the program were di-
vided equally and randomly into two groups with 10 members
in each group. The lessons for one of the two groups were
given by one of the authors who is a qualified remedial teacher.
The second group was taught by an English teacher with train-
ing in teaching children with learning disabilities. This teacher
was subjected to continuous instructions by the authors through-
out the program as to the contents of the lessons and as to the
appropriate form of instruction. This was to ensure that the
lessons given to the two groups were of equal form. The pro-
gram was spread over five months with classes of 45 minutes
each, taking place twice weekly.
At the end of the intervention program, all participants were
given the same test batteries in English that were given before
the intervention program. This was done in order to test for
possible improvement in English linguistic skills, as a result of
the intervention program. Afterwards, the test batteries were
given also in Hebrew, in order to test for possible improvement
in the same linguistic skills in L1. Summing up the results will
provide possible evidence for the cognitive retroactive transfer
hypothesis (CRT).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 135
In order to test the validity of the study theme (according to
which an intervention program for improving linguistic skills in
English as a second language will result in an improvement of
equivalent skills in Hebrew as the first language), a nonpara-
metric test (Wilcoxon test) for dependent samples was con-
ducted in order to examine the statistical significance of the
differences in English linguistic skills before and after the in-
tervention program. Likewise, a similar test will be conducted
later to examine the statistical significance of the differences in
linguistic skills in Hebrew before and after the intervention
program. In cases where a participant had reached an optimal
result in a given test before the intervention program, the grade
was not entered into the statistics calculations. The mean scores
are presented in percentages in Table 1, as well as their stan-
dard deviations for each linguistic skill and the z values before
and after the intervention program.
The results presented in Table 1 show a statistically signifi-
cant difference between the means of all linguistic skills in
English before and after the intervention program. It appears
from the data that as a result of the intervention program, the
participants have significantly improved in all their linguistic
skills in English. In order to test the validity of the study theme,
an additional examination must be conducted also for a possible
significant improvement in linguistic skills in Hebrew brought
about by the intervention program. Also for this purpose a
nonparametric test (Wilcoxon test) for dependent samples was
In Table 2, mean scores are presented in percentages as well
as their standard deviations for each linguistic skill and the z
values obtained in Hebrew before and after the intervention
The results presented in Table 2, point to a statistically sig-
Table 1.
Means, standard deviations and z values of the scores on the linguistic
tasks in English before and after the intervention program.
Before After
awareness-analysis task
in English
18 53.72 25.05 90.39 10.95–3.64*
awareness-synthesis task
in English
18 71.17 18.69 95.22 8.65–3.76*
Reading fluency in English 20 15.60 9.90 48.45 16.14–3.92*
Reading comprehension in
English 20 25.00 15.73 59.50 13.17–3.98*
Word identification in English 20 48.70 13.99 82.20 7.14–3.92*
Nonword reading in English 20 22.75 14.28 79.00 15.01–3.93*
Orthographic knowledge in
English 20 62.75 13.13 85.50 8.41–3.94*
Spelling in English 20 30.75 11.04 83.50 8.60–3.93*
task in English
20 25.00 17.01 77.00 12.18–3.94*
task in English
20 9.00 9.68 60.00 14.51–3.96*
Syntactic awareness in English 20 20.25 12.40 55.15 14.49–3.93*
Note: *p < .001.
Table 2.
Means, standard deviations and z values of the scores on the linguistic
tasks in Hebrew before and after the intervention program.
Before After
awareness-analysis task
in Hebrew
19 44.95 24.51 87.68 11.73–3.84***
awareness-synthesis task
in Hebrew
17 73.76 13.92 97.88 4.72–3.62***
Reading fluency in Hebrew2078.65 21.21 90.25 19.92–3.89***
Reading comprehension in
Hebrew 20 36.25 11.68 50.50 11.91–3.55***
Word identification in Hebrew2079.95 7.46 89.10 6.44–3.89***
Nonword reading in Hebrew2038.20 18.18 56.80 23.06–3.83***
Orthographic knowledge in
Hebrew 10 82.00 16.87 86.00 14.68–1.90
Spelling in Hebrew 2077.70 13.81 82.85 12.19–3.70***
task in Hebrew
1284.42 7.35 94.50 8.77–2.50*
task in Hebrew
2076.90 7.90 86.80 8.45 –2.92**
Syntactic awareness in Hebrew2072.30 9.49 81.50 6.60–3.42**
Note: *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.
nificant difference in most means of the linguistic skills in He-
brew before and after the intervention program. The only test in
which no statistically significant improvement was made was in
the orthographic knowledge in Hebrew (Z = –1.90; p > .05).
These findings indicate that as a result of the intervention pro-
gram in English, significant improvements were obtained in all
linguistic skills in Hebrew with the exception of the Hebrew
In addition to examining the study theme, a possible correla-
tion was searched between the levels of proficiency in English
linguistic skills and those of Hebrew after the intervention pro-
gram. A Spirman correlation test was used for this purpose. As
for an index for phonological awareness, a positive and signifi-
cant correlation was found in the analysis task (rs = .66, p < .01),
as well as in the synthesis task (rs = .70, p < .01). That is, as the
phonological awareness of the subject was higher in L2 (Eng-
lish), so was it higher in L1 (Hebrew). Another significant posi-
tive correlation was found between the spelling skills of the
subjects in English and in Hebrew (rs = .48, p < .05).
On the other hand, in all other linguistic skills tested, the cor-
relations were low, however significat: reading fluency (rs = .23,
p > .05), reading comprehension (rs = .28, p > .05), word iden-
tification (rs = .13, p > .05), nonword reading (rs = .33, p > .05),
morphological awareness-recognition task (rs = .24, p > .05),
morphological awareness-production task (rs = .21, p > .05),
and syntactic awareness (rs = .26, p > .05).
In summary, it appears from these findings that as a result of
the intervention program, which improved the English linguis-
tic skills, a parallel improvement was achieved in all Hebrew
linguistic skills, with the exception of orthographic knowledge.
When a possible correlation was searched between linguistic
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
skills in English and those in Hebrew after the intervention
program, the only significant correlation was found in phono-
logical awareness (both analysis and synthesis tasks) as well as
in spelling skills.
The present study intended to further develop the Cummin’s
(1991) theory which states that L1 linguistic and metalinguistic
skills are transferable to the L2. The present study explored
whether linguistic and metalinguistic skills are transferable in
an opposite direction, from the L2 to the L1, namely if there is
CRT of skills.
The findings of the present study indicate that the English
intervention program improved students’ achievement on all
English tests, which motivated us to test if there was a similar
progress on the Hebrew linguistic and met linguistic skills,
although they were not subjected to a similar Hebrew interven-
tion program.
The results of the Hebrew tests indicated clearly that there
was significant progress on the phonological domain on all tests,
such results indicate clearly the occurrence of a CRT of skills,
namely that English phonological abilities were transferred to
Hebrew the L1 of the students Note, that the classic findings of
transfer of skills are discussing their findings taking the orienta-
tion of straight forward relationship from L1 to L2 without
consideration of the transfer in an opposite direction fro L2 to
L1 (cf. Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 2002; Gholamain & Geva, 1999;
Muter & Diethelm, 2002; Quiroda, Lemsmostafapor, Abbott, &
Berninger, 2002; Sparts, Pratton, Ganschow, Humbach, & Je-
worsky, 2008).
These results suggest that linguistic transfer operation is a
modular process, namely phonological experiences with speech
sounds in the L2 lead to higher metacognitive abilities in the L2
and positively influence similar met cognitive abilities in other
languages. According to Koda (2007) the segmentation of
words into their speech sounds is not language-specific; ex-
periences in one language may reflect on other languages of the
Additionally, Hebrew reading accuracy of isolated words
was improved which indicates the transfer of this skill from L2
to L1. Note, that this has occurred in Hebrew the L1 of the
learners where they did not receive any direct linguistic inter-
vention (Durgunoglo, Nagy, & Hancin-Bhatt, 1993; Geva, Wade-
Wooly, & Shany, 1997; Meschyan & Hernandez, 2002). Such
results enhance the notion that the met linguistic maturity proc-
ess functions as a modular process that influences similar lin-
guistic skills in other languages. It has been stated that word
recognition skills are strongly influenced by other orthographic,
phonological, and morphological skills, namely when these
skills are improved then word recognition improves accord-
ingly (Schiff & Calif, 2007). Furthermore, the same pattern was
noticed in the fluency of reading Hebrew texts, the improve-
ment in fluency and accuracy of Hebrew which indicates again
the transfer of this skill through a modular process (cf. Do-
minguer De Ramirez & Shapiro, 2007).
Consistently, the English reading comprehension results
were improved after the intervention program, such a result
seem to positively influence the same skill in Hebrew, the L1 of
the students, which showed a similar pattern (cf. Sparks et al.,
2008; Durgunoglu, 2002; Van Gelderen et al., 2004). Accord-
ing to Durgunoglu (2002) reading strategies significantly in-
fluence reading comprehension, and since reading strategies are
considered cognitive domain, they are expected to be transfer-
able from one language to another, regardless of language order,
L1 or L2.
Furthermore, the syntactic ability of the students was im-
proved not only in English as a result of the intervention pro-
gram, but also in Hebrew the L1 of the students (cf. Da Fantura
& Siegel, 1995; Durgunoglu, Mir, & Arino-Martl, 2002; Geva
& Siegel, 2002). According to Durgunoglu (2002), mastering
syntactic skills requires high sensitivity to inner grammatical
structures of sentences, and since such a skill considered a met
cognitive ability, it’s more likely to be transferable from one
language to another regardless of direction, from L1 to L2 and
vice versa. Further, similar results were obtained in English
morphology and Hebrew morphology which reveals that mor-
phological awareness was transferred from English to Hebrew
(cf. Schiff & Calif, 2007; Wang, Cheng, & Chin, 2006).
Consistently, the spelling results indicate similar improve-
ment patterns in English as well as in Hebrew. Such results
mean that English spelling abilities were transferred to Hebrew,
the L2 of the students. Namely, direct spelling experiences in
one language may influence similar abilities in other languages
of the same learner (cf. Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 2002; Sparks et al.,
2008). According to Durgunoglo (2002) strong spelling skills
requires sensitivity of readers to the high frequent patterns of
orthography and phonology of the specific language, which
ultimately reflected positively on the same skill in the other
However, the orthographic results revealed a different pattern;
the English orthographic results were improved as a result of
the intervention program, while this improvement was not re-
flected on the Hebrew orthographic skills. This is to say that the
Hebrew orthographic skills were not improved because the
English orthographic experiences were not transferred to He-
brew the L1 of the students. This result seems to be consistent
with previous studies that failed to find orthographic cross lan-
guage transfer (Wang, Park, & Lee, 2006; Wang, Perfetti, &
Liu, 2005).
According to Abu-Rabia and Siegel (2002) orthographic
skills are language specific and different languages are charac-
terized by different and unique orthographic writing rules. Thus,
in order to improve certain orthographic language awareness,
learners should be exposed directly to that specific writing sys-
tem. This is, because orthographic knowledge is language spe-
cific, and in order to develop such knowledge readers need
direct instruction and extensive exposure to the specific com-
plex orthographic rules of the specific writing system. Such
operations may not be transferable to other languages because
orthography is a concrete code, while phonology, for instance,
is an abstract code that makes it’s modular met cognitive trans-
ferability from one language to another, easier and faster re-
gardless of direction, from L1 to L2 and vice versa (Abu-Rabia
& Sanitsky, 2010).
Overall, the Hebrew results indicated significant improve-
ment, except for the orthographic results. These findings con-
firm the existence of a Cognitive Retroactive Transfer of pho-
nological awareness, phonological processing, word recognition,
fluency, reading comprehension, syntactic awareness, morpho-
logical awareness and spelling skills from the English, the L2
of the students to Hebrew, the L1 of the students. This is to say
that transfer of met cognitive abilities may also occur retroac-
tively through a modular process, not only from L1 to L2, but
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 137
also from L2 to L1. It’s important to note that our 6th graders
were poor readers, which highlights the importance and rele-
vance of the present findings across language acquisition levels.
In other words, transfer of skills does not occur only among
regular or/and good readers but also among poor readers during
their early stages of language acquisition, provided that curric-
ula designers keep teaching direct, systematic, and well con-
Limitations of the Study
The present study suffers from a few limitations that should
be taken into consideration when interpreting its’ results. The
small sample that threatens the ability of generalization; the
English tests were taken from a non-standardized English bat-
tery for students of English as a second language; and that the
post tests were administered only once, which raises the issue
of future behavior of this improvement: Will it last for a long
time, or disappear after a certain period of time?
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