2013. Vol.4, No.5, 307-314
Published Online May 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.45046
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 307
Beginning Readers in Arabic and the Distance
between Literary and Spoken Arabic
The Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities,
Learning Disabilities Department, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Received December 22nd, 2012; revised January 24th, 2013; accepted February 8th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Raphiq Ibrahim. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Two groups of kindergarten children received a battery of phonological awareness, reading, and general
abilities tests across a two-year period. One of the groups received phonological training whereas the
other (control) group did not. Results indicated that children who received intervention improved in cer-
tain phonological awareness skills tested at the end of kindergarten but not in reading skills tested at the
end of 1st year. These findings are in contrast to findings compared to those found by Carlisle (1995) and
Lyster (2002) in English, but were in line with the findings found by Ibrahim et al. (2007) in Arabic and
support the notion that normal Arab child encounters special difficulties in reading acquisition. The psy-
cholinguistic basis and implications of these findings are discussed.
Keywords: Reading; Orthography; Phonological Awareness; Kindergarten; Arabic
A number of studies were conducted in the last two decades
in an attempt to examine the relationship between the Arabic
orthographic system and cognitive processes that might be in-
volved during word recognition. In particular, these focused on
the specific characteristics of Arabic orthography and the ways
these characteristics may influence the acquisition of reading
(e.g. Ibrahim & Aharon-Peretz, 2005; Feitelson, Goldstein,
Iraqi, & Share, 1993; Ibrahim, Eviatar, & Aharon-Peretz, 2002;
Eviatar, Ibrahim, & Ganayim, 2004; Ibrahim & Eviatar, 2009).
This study was undertaken to examine the effect of intervention
programs for improving the phonological awareness in kinder-
garten children on their first grade reading abilities in Arabic as
first language. It is widely known that there is a strong link
between reading development and linguistic awareness, the
ability to reflect on spoken language, and that the measures for
phonological awareness taken prior to reading instruction pre-
dict later reading ability (Lyster, 2002). There is good support
for a strong correlation between phonological awareness and
reading development (Blachman, Ball, Black, & Tangel, 1994;
Brennan & Ireson, 1997; Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Byrne, Free-
body, & Gates, 1992; Bowey & Francis, 1991; Durgunoglu &
Oney, 1999; Ehri & Wilce, 1980; Mann, 1998; Mann & Liber-
man, 1984; Metsala, 1999; Olfsson & Lundberg, 1983; Stano-
vich, 1986; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). In the case of Arabic
the findings were controversial (Ibrahim, Eviatar, & Aharon-
Peretz, 2007). In our previous research (see, Eviatar & Ibrahim,
2001), we asked how early exposure to two languages affects
the cognitive system?
In our recent study (Ibrahim, Eviatar, & Aharon-Peretz, 2007),
we tried to explore how the advantages in phonological aware-
ness revealed by the Russian-Hebrew bilinguals and the Arab
children are related to reading performance in first grade the
possibility that bilingualism, which has been shown to affect
metalinguistic abilities, influences reading performance via
these abilities. The consensus in the field is that learning a sec-
ond language permits children to view their language as one
system among others, and thereby enhances their reading abil-
ity. It is believed that the systematic separation of form and
meaning that is experienced in an early bilingualism gives chil-
dren added control of language processing. Focus on reading
performance and the variables that influence it have revealed
strong correlative relations with metalinguistic skills. The ma-
jority of previous investigations of the relationship between
bilingualism and reading ability were conducted in English and
other Indu-Europian languages. The general pattern of the ef-
fects of bilingualism is the following: bilinguals achieve higher
scores than monolinguals on tests of arbitrariness (Edwards &
Christofersen, 1988) and phonological awareness (Dash & Mi-
shra, 1992), and lower scores than monolinguals on tests of vo-
cabulary size (Doyle, Champagne, & Segalwitz, 1978). Con-
cerning phonological awareness many studies have demon-
strated that children’s performance in various phonological
awareness tasks are strongly related to the acquisition of read-
ing skills in English (Bradly & Bryant, 1985), Italian (Cossu,
Shankweiler, Liberman, Katz, & Tola, 1988), French (Bertlson,
Morais, Alegria, & Content, 1985), Spanish (deManrique &
Gramigna, 1984). These researches hypothesized that the abil-
ity to reflect on phonemes presupposes the ability to reflect on
words, but not vice verse. A closer look at our results revealed
that exposure to second language in early childhood affect
reading skill among children in the first grade. In that regard
this finding converges with other’s reports showed that bilin-
gualism is powerful predictor of the speed and effieciency of
reading acquisition (Da Fontoura & Siegel, 1995). However,
the above correlative studies tell us very little about the nature
of this relationship. This longitudinal study was undertaken to
examine the effect of intervention programs for improving the
phonological awareness in kindergarten children on their first
grade reading abilities in Arabic as first language.
Reading and Linguistic Skills
Reading is a process of decoding (deciphering words) and
understanding written language. This process commences with
visual stimulation and concludes with an understanding of the
idea which the writer wished to convey (Rayner & Pollatsek,
1989). Beyond this, reading is a linguistic skill, difficulties in
which can derive from problems in language processing (Mann,
1998). There is much research indicating that specific linguistic
and cognitive processes are required, in addition to the integra-
tion of these processes, for reading development. It is possible
to divide the processes necessary for reading acquisition into
two dimensions: word recognition and auxiliary cognitive proc-
esses (Shany, Zeiger, & Ravid, 2001). The first dimension com-
prises the processes involved in identifying or decoding a given
word which are reflected in several measures. One measure is
phonological decoding, that represents a fundamental ability to
decode the alphabetical system (Abu-Rabia, 2001; Abu-Rabia
et al., 2003; Mann, 1998). Beyond phonological decoding, re-
search demonstrates that orthographic processing plays an im-
portant role in reading (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990; Sta-
novich & West, 1989). Orthographic knowledge is built on
acquaintance with the language structure and its possible and
correct forms of writing (Abu-Rabia et al., 2003; Manis, Doi, &
Bhadha, 2000; Starr & Fleming, 2001). Reading efficacy refers
to the ability for accuracy and fluency in processing words and
words’ components. This ability develops from year to year
until it stabilizes in adulthood (Geva et al., 1997, Shany et al.,
2001). Word frequency in language, reader experience and the
level of regularity of its written form affect reading fluency
(Calhoon & Leslie, 2002; Gibbs & Van-Orden, 1998; Sereno &
Rayner, 2000). Automatic information processing theories deals
with reading fluency (LaBerg & Samuels, 1974).
Recent reviews (Abu-Rabia et al., 2003; Mann, 1998; Shany
et al., 2001) suggest that reading reflects a number of auxiliary
cognitive processes beyond word recognition. Those include
Phonological awareness which can be considered by most,
crucial, cognitive process for reading development. Phonologi-
cal awareness is the knowledge that spoken words are com-
posed of phonemes and syllables, and the ability to manipulate
this knowledge (Stanovich, 1986). Other studies, especially of
morphologically rich languages (for example, McBride-Chang
et al., 2005), demonstrate that the difficulty experienced by
weak readers is reflected in morphological awareness which is
connected to encoding and an understanding of the morpho-
logical transformation of words in the written and spoken lan-
guage. Additionally, processes and working knowledge of syn-
tax and semantics are also necessary for reading development.
Furthermore, working memory is a process required for reading
development. Working memory is related to the ability to con-
trol cognitive processing, and thus control actions executed
simultaneously. Verbal working memory is the important ele-
ment of verbal memory, an ability that can be measured by
tasks requiring a repetition of words or word components while
processing them (Shany et al., 2001). Another important cogni-
tive process underlying reading ability is rate of phonological
processing is expressed in the speed of accessing phonological
information stored in long-term memory (Mann, 1998; Shany et
al., 2001). Others, however, stress that reading relies heavely on
visual processing. Although numerous studies demonstrate that
there is no direct correlation of visual abilities and reading
(Crammond, 1992; Mann, 1998), other research shows that de-
ficits exist in the visual processing ability of weak readers,
particularly in the Arabic and Hebrew languages, in which im-
portant features of the written language are presented above,
beyond, and inside the written graphemes (see for example,
Abu-Rabia et al., 2003; Meyler & Breznitz, 1998).
Phonological awareness is a conscious approach to the pho-
netic level of speech and the cognitive ability to use representa-
tions at this level (Ball, 1993; Mann, 1998; Stanovich, 1986;
Shany et al., 2001; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). Phonemes are
small and abstract units of sounds of the language which cannot
easily be separated from each other within the spoken word, as
is possible to separate syllables (Mann, 1998). Phonological
awareness is one of the factors best predicting the ability of
children to learn how to read (Ball, 1993; Mann, 1998; Stano-
vich, 1986; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). Additionally, the cor-
relation between phonological awareness and reading develop-
ment is extremely strong (Ball, 1993; Stanovich, 1986), al-
though the direction of causality in this connection is not clear.
There are numerous correlative studies which demonstrate a
strong link between phonological awareness and the ability to
learn how to read. Children weak in phonological awareness
were also found to be weak in reading (Ball, 1984; Byrne et al.,
1992; Durgunoglu & Oney, 1999; Mann, 1998; Mann & Liber-
man, 1983; Shany et al., 2001; Stanovich, 1986; Wagner &
Togesen, 1987). The link between phonological awareness and
ability to learn to read has been proven to be a causal one in
numerous studies, in which phonological awareness in kinder-
garten predicts reading ability in later years (Bowey & Francis,
1991; Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Mann & Liberman, 1984; Met-
sala, 1999; Stanovich, 1986).
Owing to the significant increase in phonological awareness
of children in the 1st grade in relation to the previous year, cer-
tain researchers contend that phonological awareness is a direct
result of reading development, and that a low reading ability is
the cause of weak phonological awareness (Ball, 1993; Ehri &
Wilce, 1980; Mann, 1998). In contrast, Bryant and Bradley
(1985) argue that phonological awareness is a necessary but
insufficient condition for reading development. Ball (1993)
believes it is possible that both opinions are correct: more fun-
damental skills of phonological awareness (such as the identi-
fication of rhymes) are required to commence reading, while
higher meta-linguistic skills (such as phoneme deletion from a
word, “say rice without /r/”) develop alongside reading devel-
opment. Fundamental skills in phonological awareness assist in
the beginning of reading development, while the reading itself
deepens the phonological knowledge and skills of the reader.
Mann and Stanovich (Mann, 1998; Stanovich, 1986) call this a
reciprocal or mutual causationn, in which the two factors
(reading and phonological awareness), influence each other.
Several studies found that training for phonological awareness
assists in the development of reading (Blachman, et al., 1994;
Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Brennan & Ireson, 1997; Olfsson &
Lundbirg, 1983). The studies of Bradley and Bryant (1983,
1985) provide good testimony that phonological skills are a
factor preceding reading. The children were divided into four
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
groups, in which two were test groups and the two others were
control groups. One test group had 40 meetings in which an
exercise was conducted about the comparison of open, interme-
diate and closed phonemes of words while the other test group
included the same arrangement, with an addition of the repre-
sentation of sounds according to the alphabet. The first control
group was similar to the first test group, but the comparison of
words was done according to conceptual categories. The second
control group was a no-intervention group. During the entire
exercise, the classes continued to receive the standard reading
development program. It was found that the first test group
achieved more than the control groups in reading and spelling,
while the second test group, which included exposure to the
written word, surpassed all the other groups in reading and
The sole criticism which Brennan and Ireson (1997) make of
the study of Bradley and Bryant (1983, 1985) is that the inter-
vention was conducted at the same time in which the children
learned to read. For this reason Brennan and Ireson (1997)
conducted research of kindergarten children in London, who
were not learning to read. The research involved one test group
and two control groups. The test group was exposed to a Dan-
ish exercise program (translated into English) containing games
and meta-linguistic exercises. One control group received the
American study program entitled “Success in reading and writ-
ing in kindergarten”, in which unstructured exercises were
conducted for phonological awareness, while the second group
continued with the regular curriculum of the kindergarten. The
results showed that the test group and first control group im-
proved at the same level in reading and spelling, while the test
group surpassed the other two groups in all measurements of
phonological awareness. Despite the similarity in results be-
tween the test group and that of “success in reading and writing
in kindergarten”, certain children in the latter group did not
succeed in tasks involving phonological awareness. These chil-
dren were apparently required more structured and direct assis-
tance in order to succeed in these tasks.
The study of Lyster (2002) compared the influence of train-
ing on phonological and morphological awareness in kinder-
garten aged children on reading development in first grade. The
study had two test groups: morphological training and phono-
logical training. In each, the children received training for thirty
minutes per week over a period of 17 weeks. The two test
groups demonstrated improvement in phonological skills, mor-
phological skills and reading in comparison to the control group.
However, children from less educated mothers benefited more
from the meta-morphological intervention program. This pat-
tern of results supports the theory that different meta-linguistic
knowledge impacts differently the various stages of reading
development (Tunmer & Bowey, 1984). Additionally, recent
study examined the influence of the linguistic distance between
literary Arabic and spoken Arabic on the acquisition of funda-
mental processes in reading literary Arabic (Saiegh-Haddad,
2003). The assumption was that the linguistic distance (vari-
ables of the diglossia) would hinder reading development in
literary Arabic. It was found that the linguistic distance be-
tween the spoken and literary language impeded the acquisition
of fundamental processes of reading literary Arabic. Concern-
ing the two variables, phonemes and the syllabic construction
of words, it was found that it is more difficult for children to
deconstruct phonemes in literary Arabic than phonemes in
spoken Arabic, even at the end of first grade. It was further seen
that syllables hinder the phonemic deconstruction when the
phonemes were from the literary language and located as a pre-
vocal prefix. Additionally, it was discovered that the linguistic
distance between the two versions of the language hampers
reading development in first grade. Thus, the syllabic literary
construction hindered reading development more than the liter-
ary phonological structure. In contrast, phonemes and syllables
from the spoken language were excellently encoded.
The results of Saiegh-Haddad’s (2003) research demonstrate
that in order to assist children in reading development in first
grade, the educational system may need to expose the children
to the literary language before they enter the first grade. This is
further supported by the findings of Abu-Rabia, which show
that exposure to the literary language prior to first grade assists
children beginning to read and in reading comprehension (Abu-
The Current Research
The current research examined the influence of training kin-
dergarten children in phonological skills, separately, on their
subsequent reading performance in first grade. The results of
these intervention program were compared to a no-intervention
control group. Although the training was conducted in vocabu-
lary elements of literary Arabic an effort was made to use as
many items as possible which are similar to spoken Arabic. The
question was , would phonological training in the literary lan-
guage enhance phonological awareness? And would phono-
logical training in kindergarten assist and advance literary Ara-
bic reading development in first grade?
The working hypotheses was that there would be a clear in-
fluence of the phonological training program on the respective
skills, such that children trained in phonological skills will at-
tain higher scores on tests of phonological awareness than the
control group, Also, it was expected that the training program
would enhance reading ability in first grade.
57 kindergarten children from a private school in Haifa par-
ticipated in this research. 30 of them participated in the phono-
logical intervention program, and 27 children had no interven-
tion program and constituted the control group. Children in this
kindergarten do not learn to read or write. One of the children
left the phonological group and two left the control group. The
total number of the participants included in the statistical analy-
sis was 29 (14 males and 15 females) from the phonological
group, 25 from the control group (12 males and 13 females).
Subjects and Design
The training session for trainers included a presentation of
background information on linguistic and meta-linguistic issues,
reading development and the correlation between these vari-
ables. Additionally, the trainers learned to conduct each of the
intervention programs for each group. The trainers entered the
intervention classes simultaneously and conducted the program
for each class in groups, each group containing 10 children on
average. The trainers further underwent training in conducting
the pre and post-intervention tests. The reading tests in first
grade were administered by the trainer.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 309
The intervention was conducted in the literary Arabic lan-
guage. The training lasted for 8 weeks, and during each week
each group received three sessions of 30 - 45 minutes each.
The phonological training group: This group received train-
ing in phonological awareness. The training included the use of
rhymes, blending, segmenting and general sound recognition.
During the training, the children were exposed to letters and
letter combinations which represent the sounds and consonants
with which they are dealing. This intervention mode was based
on the methods of Lyster (2002) (adapted to Arabic from Eng-
lish). Exposure to print occurred during language games which
were built for the purposes of this research. Actually children
saw the word/words included in the training set. For example,
during a game of word identification with a rhyme or sound
opening differently, they saw a group of target words on card-
board. Despite the exposure to the written word, direct instruc-
tion of grapheme-phoneme correspondence was not conducted.
Control group: this group received no intervention whatso-
ever. The research assistants’ visits to this group were only
during the pre and post tests.
The pre-tests were administered in kindergarten to the ex-
perimental group from the beginning of the second trimester of
the school year. The intervention program commenced at the
beginning of the final trimester of the school year. The post-
tests were administered at the conclusion of the intervention
programs. Reading tests were given to both groups at the be-
ginning of the second trimester of the school year in first grade.
Each of the tests were administered to both groups at almost the
For purposes of this study, a set of tests to examine the effect
of the interventions programs (pre and posttests) was con-
structed, as well as a set of reading tests for first grade in Ara-
Pre and Post Measures
Phonological awareness tests:
1) Rhyme Match Test: In this test a word is presented, and
after that three other words (nouns or verbs) are presented. The
child is required to choose one of these words to rhyme with the
first presented word. All the words given in this test are pre-
sented orally and with a line drawing or colored illustration.
The test include 14 items ( = .815).
2) Syllables Count: The child heard 11 words, and was asked
to count its’ syllables. For each syllable the child was asked to
knock on the table or clap hands. Two examples were given
prior to the test ( = .907).
3) Phonemes Count: This test was constructed in a manner
similar to the previous one. The child heard 15 items in as-
cending order according to their level of difficulty. For each
item, the child was asked to count the phonemes. While count-
ing each phoneme, he/she was asked also to clap his/her hands
or knock on the desk. Three examples were given prior to the
actual test ( = 0.767).
4) First phoneme match: The test included 12 items pre-
sented in ascending order, according to word size and linguistic
distance from the spoken language. The child heard each item,
after which he was asked to note which of three choice words
shared a first phoneme with the target item. All of the items
were similar to the target item in regards of word size and com-
plexity. Pictures illustrating the items were shown to the chil-
dren ( = .766).
5) Last phoneme match: A similar task to the previous one,
in which the child was asked to match the target word with one
of three words according to its last phoneme ( = .875). The
task included 14 items.
General abilities and phonological processing tests:
1) Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised: A test exam-
ining vocabulary in which the child is told words and he must
mark one out of four pictures. This test has no norms in Israel.
The 50 first items of the test, translated into literary Arabic
from the English version of the test (Dunn & Dunn, 1981) were
used on this research.
2) Verbal memory tests: Based on the Hebrew test of Shatil
(2002) the test comprises 20 items. The child was requested to
repeat meaningless syllabic constructions which vary from one
to five syllables in length.
3) Raven Standard Progressive Matrices (children’s version):
The test includes matrices with problems becoming progres-
sively more difficult. The test is intended to examine a person’s
“inductive” ability (Zaaiman, Van der Filer, & Thijs, 2001). The
children’s version includes three sets of 12 colorful items.
A set of tests were constructed to examine reading ability.
Performance was tested by scoring reading accuracy and speed.
Note that the Alpha Cronbach was computed from the test re-
sults of the current study.
1) Words recognition test: The test included a column of
pictures and across from it a column of words. The child was
required to match the picture with the corresponding word. The
test included 20 items ( = .646). The test was administered in a
group manner, to each class separately.
2) Syllable reading: the child was asked to read 20 syllables
presented on a single test page ( = .818) syllables were of max
3) Pseudo words reading: Included a list of 20 pseudo words
( = .835). words in this test was one or two syllables. The
syllables were part of the words children usually learn in 1st
4) Word reading: Words were chosen so that part of them
would be morphologically simple, including one syllable, like
the word “” (/la/ which means “No”). the other words were
gradually more comlex, like the word “
” (/tarakat/, which
means “she left”). Words were organized by frequency, as ad-
vised by the two teachers checking the tests. This task included
42 words in which the child was required to read them all (
The results of the pre intervention, post-intervention interval
(kindergarten), and the one year after (1st grade), were used to
assess whether the intervention program designed to enhance
phonological awareness actually would enhance phonological
awareness abilities. The results of the reading tests administered
about one year after the intervention in order to assess whether
the intervention programs could improve reading abilities in
comparison to the control, no-intervention group. The reading
measures of both groups were also compared in terms of gender
differences. Finally, the correlations between performance in the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
different tests in Kindergarten and the reading test scores in the
first grade, and between the different reading tests administered
in 1st grade are reported.
A new measure of “combined phonological score” was de-
rived by simply adding the “first phoneme match” score to the
“last phoneme score”. The reason lying behind this measure was
that these two tests rely on about the same factor (phonological
awareness) and both of them were tested in exactly the same
A MANOVA was used to test the initial differences between
the study groups (phonological intervention group and control
(no-intervention) group, in pretest measures. The MANOVA
results showed that the initial performance on the verbal memory
test (F(1,52) = 3.14, p < .05) was significantly different for both
groups. A post hoc test (Scheffe) showed a marginally signifi-
cant difference between the Phonological and the control groups
(p = .051), with the Phonological group performing better. Fi-
nally, the initial performance of the both groups in the phoneme
count test was also significantly different (F(1,52) = 4.15, p < .05).
A post hoc test (Scheffe) showed a significant difference be-
tween the Phonological and the control groups (p = .02), with
better performance in the control group.
A second MANOVA was run to test the differences in per-
formance in both study groups, after the intervention interval, in
the post tests. Post hoc tests (Scheffe) showed a significant
difference in the performance of the both study groups in the
phoneme count and verbal memory tests, tests in which differ-
ences between the groups were found even before the interven-
tion period (i.e., in the pre-tests). However, after the intervention
interval, the combined phonology group showed a significant
difference from the control group. The Phonological group also
showed a marginally significant improvement in comparison to
the control group.
In order to test the possible differential effects of the inter-
vention programs, we compared the performance of the par-
ticipants of both study groups in the two kindergarten sessions
(pre and post tests) for each of the tests, separately, using re-
peated measures ANOVAs. The results showed that both groups
improved in the general ability tests, specifically in the Peabody,
Raven and Verbal memory tests. In some tests only the phono-
logical intervention group, but not the control group, showed
significant improvements across the intervention period. These
tests included the last phoneme match test (although the latter
test showed only marginally significant improvement in the
Phonological group). Only the Phonological group improved in
the phoneme count test. The control group showed significant
improvement only in naming time. However, an analysis of the
number of errors made, by the control group, showed that there
was a trade off between accuracy and fluency, since these par-
ticipants had also increased the number of errors made in the
Both study groups (Phonological, and control) showed a sig-
nificant improvement in the Peabody test. Comparisons using a
2 groups (Phonological and control; as between-subject factor)
× 2 time points (pre and post tests; as within-subject factor)
ANOVA, showed a main effect for time-point (F(1,52) = 26.43, p
< .001) with no significant interaction (groups x time-points). A
paired-samples t-test conducted for each group separately,
showed significant improvement in both groups: Phonological,
and control (t(25) = 3.6, p = .001; t(23) = 3.38, p < .01, respec-
Both study groups tested in the Raven test showed a signifi-
cant improvement. Comparisons using a 2 group (Phonological
and control, as between-subject factor) × 2 time point (pre and
post tests; as within-subject factor) ANOVA showed a main
effect for time-point (F(1,52) = 33.52, p < .001), but no signifi-
cant interaction (groups x time-points) (F(2,52) = 0.81, p = 0.51).
A paired-samples t-test conducted for each group separately,
showed significant improvements in both study groups: phono-
logical and control groups (t(25) = 2.77, p < .05; t(23) = 4.74, p
< .001, respectively).
3) Verbal Memory
Both study groups tested in the Verbal Memory test showed
a significant improvement. Comparisons using a 2 groups
(Phonological and control, as between-subject factor) × 2 time
points (pre and post tests; as within-subject factor) ANOVA
showed a main effect for time-point (F(1,52) = 26.31, p < .001)
with no significant interaction (groups × time-points). There
was significant main effect of group (between-subjects; [F(1,52)
= 6.92, p < .001]). A paired-samples t-test conducted for each
group separately, showed significant improvements in Phono-
logical group (t(26) = 2.83, p < .01). The control group showed
only a marginally significant improvement (t(23) = 1.98, p
4) Combined Phoneme Match Score (First and Last Phoneme
As the first and last phoneme match attempt to test the same
ability (phonological awareness) at the same manner, a com-
bined measure was computed for both of the tests.
In both study groups tested in the combined phoneme match
score there was no significant improvement. Comparisons us-
ing a 2 group (Phonological and control, as between-subject
factor) × 2 time point (pre and post tests; as within-subject fac-
tor) ANOVA showed a main effect for time-point (F(1,52) =
12.67, p = .001) with a significant interaction (groups × time-
points) (F(2,52) = 5.34, p < .01). There was significant main ef-
fect of group (between-subjects; [F(2,74) = 4.41, p < .05]). Post
hoc test (Scheffe) demonstrated that the participants of the
Phonological group showing better performance than the con-
trol group (p < .05).
Reading Tests in 1st Grade
To test for differences between both study groups in reading
abilities ANOVA tests were run for each of the reading tests
separately. As opposed to assumptions, there were no signifi-
cant differences between the study groups in the performance
of any of the tests that were administered to measure reading
In order to study the relationship between the performance in
the pre-test battery and the participants’ reading abilities, the
correlations between performance measures in the various tests
in the pre-test and the reading test measures were computed.
Table 1 shows the Pearson’s correlations between pre tests
measured in kindergarten and the reading tests measured in 1st
grade. As can be seen, none of the pre tests correlated signifi-
cantly with word recognition test. We exclude the verbal mem-
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Pearson correlations between pre tests and post tests admitted in kindergarten and reading tests admitted in the 1st grade.
reading Pseudo word
reading Pseudo word
pre verbal memory .230 (*) .166 .266 (*) .268 (*)post verbal memory .091 .310 (**) .321 (**) .308 (**)
pre Peabody .051 .179 .176 .183 post Peabody .16 .189 .177 .17
pre raven .21 .261 (*) .196 .147 post raven .044 .269 (*) .278 (*) .173
pre rhyme match .055 .220 (*) .217 .232 (*)post rhyme match .275 (*) .224(*) .295 (**) .249 (*)
pre syllable count .026 .087 .079 .04 post syllable count .134 .246(*) .242 (*) .145
pre phoneme count .204 .065 .018 .076 post phoneme count .083 .095 .148 .111
pre first phoneme match .075 .273 (*) .344 (**) .321 (**)post first phoneme match.372 (**) .360 (**) .455 (**) .390 (**)
pre last phoneme match .048 .195 .149 .15 post last phoneme match.318 (**) .419 (**) .395 (**) .308 (**)
Note: **Correlation is significant at the .01 level (2-tailed); *Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
ory test that correlated with this test in a low significance and
correlation (r = 0.230, p < .05).
A similar correlation analysis was performed to study the re-
lationship between the performance in the post-test that took
place in kindergarten, and the reading tests admitted in the 1st
grade (see Table 1). The performance levels in the tests rhyme
match, first phoneme match, last phoneme match were signifi-
cantly correlated with all of the reading tests. The correlations in
those tests varied from 0.224 - 0.455 (absolute value), all in high
significance. Most of the other post tests correlated with part of
reading tests too.
The Pearson correlations between the different reading tests
showed that all the reading tests correlated with each other with
a high level of significance, except for the word recognition test.
This suggests that word recognition test might examine things
that are beyond merely reading abilities. It could, for example,
test visual perception ability, or anything regarding the visual-
The effect of phonological intervention program in kinder-
garten on the development of reading abilities in native Arab
speaking children was examined and discussed. The main ques-
tion was, whether a phonological awareness training program
can improve phonological awareness abilities; and whether this
training program may help to improve reading abilities in the
first grade in comparison to a no-intervention control group.
The results showed that the phonological intervention group
was improved in a number of phonological tasks including the
last phoneme match task and the phoneme count. However, the
only task, in which the children of the no intervention control
group showed improvement between the initial and the second
testing sessions, was the naming task, This improvement in
speed, therefore, can be ascribed to a speed accuracy trade-off.
The results of the reading and spelling tests administered to
the participants of both groups in the first grade showed that the
intervention groups had at least some advantage over the con-
trol group in measures of fluency in the syllable reading,
pseudo word reading and word reading. But, those differences
were not statistically significant.
The effect of phonological intervention program on phono-
logical awareness, is in line with previous results (for example,
Ball & Blachman, 1988; Blachman et al., 1994; Olfsson &
Lundberg, 1983; Brennan & Ireson, 1997; Gustafson, Ferreira,
& Ronnberg, 2007). Thus, awareness of word structure at the
level of phoneme is related to reading acquisition. Lyster (2002)
found these arguments supported also by the results of her
study, in which the phonological group developed their linguis-
tic an morphological knowledge to a significantly higher level
than children in the control group. Casalis & Louis-Al-exandre
(2000) went beyond these results and found in a non-interven-
tion longitudinal study that phonological awareness explained a
major part of the variance in reading measures in the first grade.
Furthermore, the phonological score explained a significant part
of the variance of both decoding and reading comprehension
scores in second grade.
In a recent study conducted by McBride-Chang et al., (2005),
they developed this idea by investigating how phonological
awareness is associated with word recognition in different
scripts among second graders. They critically address the em-
phasis put on the importance of phonological awareness for
early reading in current textbooks of reading development.
McBride-Chang et al., (2005) suggest that the extent to which
phonological awareness is associated with reading development
likely depends on the language in which it occurs and the script
to which it is linked as well as the developmental level of the
child. McBride-Chang et al., (2005) provide evidence in sup-
port of the notion that phonological awareness may be more
important for reading in English and Korean than for reading in
In the current study, the phonological group was improved in
the phoneme count test. This pattern of results was also found
by Lyster (2002) implying that only explicit teaching (of how
to segment phonemes) may enhance the children’s ability to
segment phonemes in a given word. However, the Phonological
group did not show a significant improvement across the inter-
vention period in the rhyme match or the syllable count. Also,
the current results in reading showed that, there were no sig-
nificant differences between groups in the performance of the
reading tests in the 1st grade. This finding is surprising com-
paring to English reading population since previous studies
found that phonological intervention programs in kindergarten
do enhance reading abilities in 1st graders (for example, Bren-
nan & Ireson, 1997; Ball & Blachman, 1988; Blachman et al.,
1994). The results of this study, in addition to results of the
previous studies suggest that there is a difficulty in processing
Arabic language by native Arabic readers and this is apparently
due to three factors related to language characteristics. The first
factor might be relatad to the effects of diglossia (the fact that
children learn to read a language in which they are not fluent)
(see Ibrahim &Aharon-Perez, 2005; Abu-Rabia, 1997; Saiegh-
Haddad, 2003). The second factor might be relatad to the fact
that Arabic orthography is less transparent/shallow and the uni-
que relationship between graphemes and phonemes in Arabic
(Assad & Eviatar, 2010). According to the “orthographic depth
hypothesis”, decoding of deeper orthographies is less reliant on
phonology. The third factor might be relatad to the visual char-
acteristics of Arabic orthography, and it’s orthographic com-
plexity that result in a specific reading strategy among skilled
readers that involves the cerebral hemispheres differently in
Arabic than in Hebrew or English (Ibrahim, Eviatar, & Aharon-
Peretz, 2002; Eviatar, Ibrahim, & Ganayim, 2004; Eviatar &
Ibrahim, 2007; Ibrahim & Eviatar, 2009; Taha, Ibrahim, &
The whole findings of the current research do not allow us to
ignore the fact that normal Arab child (and for a further extent
child with learning disability), who encounters special difficul-
ties in reading acquisition need special pedagogical methods
and systematical professional intervention to overcome these
difficulties that the Arabic language imposes. On that regard,
Arab teachers who deal every day with the ability of students to
learn their native language, must monitor the reading learning
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