EALs Are at Risk of Developing Reading Comprehension Problems

Spencer and Wagner  (2017) in a good study (meta-analysis) revealed that EALs children
(children learning English as an Additional Language) who had good decoding skills, had at the same time noticeable deficits in oral language when compared with native children (d = –0.80). Importantly, the study evidenced that EALs reading comprehension was on a much lower level than native children’s. (d=–2.47).


The study posited that children to be good readers, need to be able both to decode (sound out) and comprehend (understand) texts. The EAL children in the study were good at sounding text out (decoding) but they had enormous problems with understanding what they read (comprehension).

The effect size d = 0.80 for oral language means that the difference in oral language between EALs children and native children was noticeable without any special language tests.
The effect size of (d =–2.47) for reading comprehension means that there was an enormous difference in reading comprehension between EALs children and native children.

EAL children are at a significant danger of developing reading comprehension problems in later grades despite good decoding skills in early years at school. Parents should remember that good decoding skills in P1-P3 don’t mean that child will be a good reader. The very low scores of EAL children on comprehension might have serious consequences for children learning and the future. E.g. children cannot learn and pass tests if they don’t understand what they read. Children learning English as an Additional Language need more support for language development and interventions geared to developing reading comprehension.


Spencer, M., & Wagner, R. K. (2017). The comprehension problems for second‐language learners with poor reading comprehension despite adequate decoding: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Research in Reading40(2), 199-217.