Foreign language attainment of children/adolescents with poor literacy skills: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Kohnen, S. 1 , Kohnen, S. 2 & Stadie, N. 3

1 National Institute of Education (Singapore)
2 Macquarie University (Australia)
3 Potsdam University (Germany)

This systematic review investigated how successful children/adolescents with poor literacy skills in their first language are in learning a foreign language. We explored what characteristics (pertaining to participants, foreign language instruction and assessment) moderated foreign language test-scores. Sixteen studies with 968 participants (poor reader/spellers: n = 404; control participants: n = 564) were included in this systematic review. Unfortunately, eligible studies only focussed on English as a foreign language. Ten different measures of foreign language attainment were entered into meta-analyses. We calculated standard mean differences and captured individual variability between participant groups via natural logarithms of the ratio of coefficients of variation. Interpretation of results was limited by significant between-study heterogeneity, which could not be explained by moderator analyses. While, on average, children/adolescents with poor literacy skills scored lower on measures of foreign language spoken word production, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and reading comprehension, their performance also varied significantly more than that of controls. Thus, the extent to which group differences between the foreign language scores of children/adolescents with poor and typical literacy skills are representative of individual poor readers/spellers remains unclear. Overall, this systematic review indicates that foreign language skills in children/adolescents with poor literacy skills are highly variable.