The Causes of Spelling Errors by Arabic Learners of English

Robert Joel Deacon


This study investigates the possible cause(s) of English spelling errors by Arabic learners of English (ALEs). Studies show that ALEs make significantly more English spelling errors than other English second-language learner groups. Studies also show ALEs make more errors with vowels. The omission of short vowels in Arabic writing has been proposed to cause vowel blindness in English, resulting in the poorer spelling performance. This study evaluates this claim by comparing the distribution of short and long-vowel errors and vowel and consonant error types from handwritten texts by ALEs. While this study found more vowel than consonant errors, only the distribution of vowel graph-choice and insertion errors significantly differed from the number of consonant errors by subcategory. Graph-choice errors, not omission errors, were exceedingly the most common error type. Vowel length was not significantly associated with either vowel omission or graph-choice as expected under the vowel blindness hypothesis. The results, thus, did not indicate a missing vowel orthographic transfer effect as the primary reason for ALE orthographic production difficulty in English. Instead, this paper proposes an underdeveloped lexical-orthographic-representation hypothesis to account for both the degree and range of errors found. This study also found that low and high proficiency groups only significantly differed in consonant graph-choice and silent-graph error categories, with the advanced group performing better. These results suggest that ALE spelling skills are not markedly improving with the advancement of other writing skills and that ALEs may need explicit spelling instruction, especially to connect vowel phonemes with multiple graphemes.


Arabic ESL; orthographic competence; orthographic transfer; spelling; vowel blindness

Full Text:



Abu-Rabia, S. (1997). Reading in Arabic orthography: The effect of vowels and context on reading accuracy of poor and skilled native Arabic readers. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 9(1), 65-78.

Abu-Rabia, S. (2000). Effects of exposure to literary Arabic on reading comprehension in a diglossic situation. Reading and writing, 13(1), 147-157.

Alsadoon, R., & Heift, T. (2015). Textual input enhancement for vowel blindness: A study with Arabic ESL learners. The Modern Language Journal, 99(1), 57-79.

Bebout, L. (1985). An error analysis of misspellings made by learners of English as a first and as a second language. Journal of psycholinguistic research, 14(6), 569-593.

Bowen, H. (2011). Spelling it out! Accounting for spelling difficulties for Arab learners of English. In T. Smith (Ed.), Foundations for the future: Focus on vocabulary (pp. 85-98). Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: HCT Press.

Carrell, P. L. (1991). Second language reading: Reading ability or language proficiency? Applied linguistics, 12(2), 159-179.

Carson, J. E., Carrell, P. L., Silberstein, S., Kroll, B., & Kuehn, P. A. (1990). Reading?writing relationships in first and second language. Tesol Quarterly, 24(2), 245-266.

Cruttenden, A. (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English. New York, New York: Routledge. 10.1017/S0025100303231121

Dunlap, S. (2012). Orthographic Quality in English as a Second Language, Ph.D. dissertation, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pittsburgh.

Ehri, L. C. (1997). Learning to read and learning to spell are one and the same, almost. Learning to spell: Research, theory, and practice across languages, 13, 237-268.

Fender, M. (2008). Spelling knowledge and reading development: Insights from Arab ESL Learners. Reading in a Foreign Language, 20(1), 19-42. Retrieved from accountid=12653

Frost, R., Katz, L., & Bentin, S. (1987). Strategies for visual word recognition and orthographical depth: a multilingual comparison. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 13(1), 104.

Haggan, M. (1991). Spelling errors in native Arabic-speaking English majors: A comparison between remedial students and fourth year students. System, 19(1-2), 45-61.

Hayes-Harb, R. (2006). Native speakers of Arabic in ESL texts: Evidence for the transfer of written word identification processes. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 321- 339.

Koriat, A. (1984). Reading without Vowels-Lexical Access in Hebrew. Attention and performance, 10, 227-242.

Mullock, B. (2012). An examination of commercial spelling programs for upper primary level students. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 36(2), 172-195.

Nassaji, H. (2003). Higher-level and lower-level text processing skills in advanced ESL reading comprehension. The Modern Language Journal, 87, 261 276.

Perfetti, C. (1997). The psycholinguistics of spelling and reading. In Perfetti, C., Rieben, L., and F. Michel (eds.), Learning to spell: Research, theory, and practice across languages. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum. 2138.

Perfetti C., & Hart, L. A. (2002). The lexical quality hypothesis. In Vehoeven L., Elbro C., Reitsma P. (eds.), Precursors of Functional Literacy. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 180213.

Randall, M., & Meara, P. (1988). How Arabs read roman letters. Reading in a Foreign Language, 4(2), 133-145.

Randall, M. (2009). Second Language Reading Pro?ciency and Word Recognition: The Concept of Saliency and Its Application Across Different Scripts. Issues in Second Language Proficiency, 116-131.

Ryan, A., & Meara, P. (1991). The case of the invisible vowels: Arabic speakers reading English words. Reading in a foreign language, 7, 531-531.

Saiegh-Haddad, E., & Geva, E. (2010). Acquiring reading in two languages: An introduction to the special issue. Reading and Writing, 23(3), 263-267.

Saigh, K., & Schmitt, N. (2012). Difficulties with vocabulary word form: The case of Arabic ESL learners. System, 40(1), 24-36.

Seymour, P.H., Aro, M., & Erskine, J.M. (2003). Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies. British Journal of psychology, 94(2), 143-174.

Taylor, M. (2008). Orthographic and phonological awareness among L1 Arabic ESL learners: A quasi-experimental study. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.

Thompson-Panos, K., & Thomas-Ruzic, M. (1983). The least you should know about Arabic: Implications for the ESL writing instructor. TESOL Quarterly, 17, 609623.

Wang, Y., Martin, M. A., & Martin, S. H. (2002). Understanding Asian graduate students' English literacy problems. College Teaching, 50(3), 97-101.

Watson, J. C. (2007). The phonology and morphology of Arabic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

 Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Eurasian Journal of Applied Linguistics

ISSN 2149­-1135
Copyright © Eurasian Journal of Applied Linguistics

Ejal Editorial | Create Your Badge

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the '' domain to your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.