Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2020

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Charles X. Li

Second Committee Member

Loretta Gray

Third Committee Member

Penglin Wang


Writing systems vary in how they relate graphemes to phonology and meaning. Consequently, each writing system makes unique demands on native speakers, resulting in different cognitive processes. This research examines the visual and phonological processes used by native Spanish and Chinese speakers and how these processes affect their acquisition of English vocabulary and spelling. Experiments 1 and 2 investigate how native Chinese and Spanish speakers associate graphemes to phonology. Experiments 3 seeks to differentiate visual processing from phonological processing when acquiring vocabulary. Experiment 4 assesses the efficacy of those processes. Six native Chinese speakers (NCS) and six native Spanish speakers (NSS) participated in this study. In Experiment 1, I found that NCS spelled opaque, or irregular, English words from an aural prompt more successfully than did NSS speakers. In Experiment 2, I hypothesized that because Chinese words are not processed sub-lexically, in contrast to Spanish, words, NCS would be more successful than NSS when spelling opaque nonwords that were presented visually and cued orally. The results supported this hypothesis. In Experiment 3, I used a visual naming task to distinguish between visual and phonological processing. Experiment 4 examined the efficacy of visual and phonological processing in vocabulary acquisition. For these last 2 experiments, I presented three categories of nonwords, licit, illicit, and non-phonological symbols simultaneously with a picture unique to each word. The picture then served as the spelling cue for the nonwords. The results demonstrated visual processing in the NCS and phonological processing in the NSS. In Experiment 4, the NSS scored significantly higher than NCS on nonwords that could be easily translated into phonology. The NCS scored nearly significantly higher than the NSS for the non-phonological symbols. The results support the hypothesis that native writing systems, and the reading and spelling processes they engender, affect the acquisition of L2 English vocabulary. These findings have pedological implications for English teachers of linguistically diverse students.

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