Silhouette of a boy reading at sunset
Silhouette of a boy reading at sunset

Reading beyond borders

The role of linguistic skills in learning to read English in non-Western contexts
1 February 2021 until 31 January 2024
Project type

Project description

This 3-year research project proposes an in-depth and longitudinal investigation of second-language (L2) reading comprehension of primary school children in non-Western educational contexts. Many L2 speakers struggle with reading comprehension, but most studies have tried to explain these reading comprehension difficulties focussing on Western contexts.

Reading Beyond Borders 3, Ghana

Building scientific theories solely on Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) countries will bias the development of generic principles of second-language acquisition, as these samples are not indicative of the general human population.

The current study addresses this Western bias and expands the research field towards non-WEIRD contexts by targeting mother-tongue speakers of Akan and isiZulu (Niger-Congo group) and Cantonese (Sino-Tibetan group) in Ghana, South Africa, and Hong Kong, three former British colonies that have institutionalised non-native varieties of English. The research will answer two questions. Firstly, how does children’s English L2 reading comprehension develop over a longer period of time, and how can this development be predicted by L2 morphological awareness and vocabulary knowledge? Secondly, how does children’s L1 language structure awareness predict the development of their English L2 morphological awareness, and, indirectly, their L2 reading comprehension? Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) is used as an analytical framework.

This is the first longitudinal study in a non-Western context that investigates the role of L1 and L2 linguistic skills on reading comprehension development in English as a second language.

Reading Beyond Borders 2, Ghana

The unique comparison of both African and Asian countries that have institutionalised English in their societies allows for coverage of considerable variation in English L2 populations in terms of L1 language characteristics, and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Research findings will be unravelled and analysed for components that can be translated into pedagogical guidelines and teaching methods for multilingual classroom contexts.

Reading Beyond Borders 1, Ghana



  • University of South Africa
  • University of Cape Coast (Ghana)
  • The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Contact information