Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16: 717–736, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Bilingual oral reading ﬂuency and reading comprehension:
The case of Arabic/Hebrew (L1)–English (L2) readers
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Abstract. The relevance of Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) to reading comprehension in the
native language (L1) and in English – a foreign language (L2) – was studied. Fifty university
students, twenty-two Arabic and twenty-eight Hebrew native speakers, read both L1 and
English texts aloud and reported their comprehension on-line. Results showed that ORF
was not correlated with reading comprehension in L1. However, in English, the two reading
measures were signiﬁcantly correlated. Next, the ORF and reading comprehension scores were
each analyzed using a 2 × 2 ANOVA with repeated measures on language (L1 versus L2)
and with native language (Arabic versus Hebrew) as a between subject factor. This analysis
revealed a main effect of language, with both sets of scores higher in L1 than in L2. How-
ever, a native language effect was only traced in the ORF scores, favoring the Hebrew native
group. The ﬁndings demonstrate the importance of ORF in adult L2 reading comprehension.
Linguistic proﬁciency and the unique properties of unvoweled script are used to explain the
absence of a signiﬁcant correlation between ORF and comprehension in L1 reading. Diglossia
is proposed as a tenable explanation of the lower ORF scores among the Arabic native sample.
Key words: Cross-linguistic reading, Diglossia, Oral reading ﬂuency, Reading comprehen-
sion, Unvoweled script
Reading research has been looking more closely of late at the cognitive
and linguistic underpinnings of reading competence. One of the important
ﬁndings has underscored the unique power of word reading efﬁciency in
predicting reading success. In fact, the evidence looks so strong that word
recognition has come to be seen as “the foundation of the reading process”
(Gough, 1984, p. 225) and “a proxy diagnostic tool for instructional methods”
(Stanovich, 2000, p. 208). One of the questions addressed by this study is
whether word recognition is a universal factor in the sense that it has more
or less the same kind of predictive capacity in all languages or whether
language speciﬁc features affect this capacity. Word reading efﬁciency, or
Verbal Efﬁciency (Perfetti, 1985), which refers to the ability of readers to
identify printed words rapidly and accurately, is not an entirely new concept.
However, the importance of recent developments in reading theory is that
they helped uncover some of the basic spin-off cognitive-linguistic mechan-