What is the project about?

The aim of this project was to investigate the development of reading and reading-related skills in Malay and English in the context of Malaysia, a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country where Malay is the official language but English is widely spoken. Both languages are mandatory subjects from the start of school, there has been little research into cross-linguistic influences on bilingual literacy acquisition in this context. Data were collected on reading and related skills, in both Malay and English, from 160 children aged four to seven years. We used existing English tests (adapted to the Malay context where necessary) and Malay equivalents, which we developed. Findings showed high correlations between English and Malay measures of a range of different language and cognitive factors, e.g, vocabulary, phonological awareness (PA), rapid automatized naming (RAN); environmental factors, e.g., home literacy, parents’ language proficiency and social-economic status (SES); and word reading skills. These findings suggest some degree of generality across languages in these measures. Similar factors (PA and RAN) predicted reading in both languages, but regression analysis revealed that  while cross-linguistic transfer was demonstrated from Malay to English in PA and RAN, there was no evidence of transfer from English to Malay.

We also investigated the role of environmental factors, including socio-economic status (SES) and the home literacy environment (the extent to which parents engaged children in book related activities at home, in reading skills in both languages.  When we investigated the predictors of reading separately in the two languages, we found that while SES and the home literacy environment were significant predictors of reading in English, this was not true for Malay, perhaps because the relatively simple, highly consistent orthography of Malay is easily learnt, and does not depend on an enriched home environment. This has clear implications in terms of social justice.

Who is running the project? 

Tze Peng Wong from the University of Nottingham (PI) and Daisy Powell from the University of Reading (Co-I)

Who funded the project? 

British Academy Newton Mobility Fund