Spelling as a way to classify poor Chinese-English literacy skills in Hong Kong Chinese children

Zebedee Rui En CHEAH, Yanyan YE, Keivin Fai Hong LUI, Catherine MCBRIDE*, Urs MAURER

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Previous work has predominantly focused on word reading in studying literacy difficulties; very little work has focused on spelling difficulty instead. The present study adopted spelling (dictation) as the criterion to classify poor literacy skills in Hong Kong Chinese-English bilingual children. We examined the cognitive-linguistic skills profiles across four groups of children with different spelling abilities. Based on performances on Chinese and English dictation (criterion = below 25% in a larger sample), four groups were identified, 21 poor spellers of Chinese (PC), 18 poor spellers of English (PE), 27 poor spellers of both languages (PB), and 30 good spellers of both scripts (GB). Measures on language-specific tests of cognitive-linguistic skills (phonological awareness, lexical decision, morphological awareness, rapid naming, and delayed copying) were included to compare the degree of deficit exhibited by each group. With age, grade, and non-verbal intelligence controlled, one-way ANCOVA results revealed that, compared to GB, PC manifested significant deficits in Chinese-delayed copying but scored similarly on all English cognitive-linguistic skills. PE and PB showed significant deficits in Chinese and English phonological awareness compared to PC; they were significantly weaker in English-delayed copying, morphological awareness, and rapid naming (RAN). The PB group was significantly slower in both Chinese and English RAN compared to GB. Findings highlight the critical role of delayed copying in distinguishing poor spellers in both Chinese and English, the importance of phonological awareness for spelling in English but not in Chinese, and the role of automaticity in bilingual spelling difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-108
Number of pages19
JournalAnnals of Dyslexia
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Collaborative Research Fund of Hong Kong SAR (CUHK8/CRF/13G and C4054-17WF) to Catherine McBride.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to The International Dyslexia Association.


  • Bilingual
  • Cognitive-linguistic skills
  • Delayed copying
  • Dictation
  • Dissociation


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