Vocabulary and its impact on reading comprehension | University of Iceland Skip to main content

Vocabulary and its impact on reading comprehension

Sigríður Ólafsdóttir, doctoral student from the Faculty of Education Studies

"The main objective of the research was to explore the rate of development of vocabulary and reading comprehension among Icelandic primary school students with a native language other than Icelandic, the links between these basic skills and how they compare to children who are native speakers of Icelandic," says Sigríður Ólafsdóttir, who completed a doctorate in education studies from the University of Iceland in the autumn of 2015.

Her interest in the topic was aroused when she was teaching children Icelandic as a second language. In her search for an effective methodology, she contacted academics in Canada and the Netherlands and visited these countries. She says that this is how her focus was directed towards vocabulary.

Sigríður Ólafsdóttir

"Most research in the field of literacy has focused on very young children, only spanned a few years or has not looked at development rates in particular. So this research makes an important contribution to the international community."

Sigríður Ólafsdóttir, doctoral student from the Faculty of Education Studies

The results of Sigríður's research indicated that children with a native language other than Icelandic developed their Icelandic vocabularies from the fourth to eighth grades at a slower rate than their peers who were native speakers of Icelandic, which led to growing differences between these groups of students. The latter group consistently had the advantage in reading comprehension for the duration of the research project. In both groups it was true that the larger vocabulary children had in the fourth grade, the faster their reading comprehension improved.

The research also showed that the older the children were when they came to Iceland, the faster their vocabulary and reading comprehension developed. The difference between children with European native languages and non-European native languages was evident in the vocabulary and reading comprehension tests for all grades, with the European children coming out on top.

"The impact of Icelandic vocabulary on the rate of development of reading comprehension has not been researched before. Most research in the field of literacy has focused on very young children, only spanned a few years or has not looked at development rates in particular. So this research makes an important contribution to the international community," Sigríður concludes.

Supervisor: Freyja Birgisdóttir, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Teacher Education