Using a large longitudinal database, this report investigated gains in English language skills in a sample of 340 adult second language learners. All participants were enrolled in the McMaster English Language Development (MELD) program, a university-level English bridging program at McMaster University (Ontario, Canada). Two cohorts of students (2017-2018 and 2018-2019) were administered a battery of English language skill tests at the beginning and end of the 8-month program. The test battery included assessments of passage reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and phonological processing. Eye-movements were recorded during the reading comprehension assessment.
The study found across-the-board gains in phonological processing, vocabulary depth, vocabulary breadth, reading fluency and reading comprehension. In particular, the magnitude of increases were substantial for phonological awareness and phonological memory. Furthermore, incoming vocabulary knowledge and phonological awareness each uniquely contributed to reading comprehension and reading fluency outcomes at the end of the program. Results have implications for English language instruction in university-level bridging programs. The report recommends assessing phonological awareness early in the program in order to identify students who may fall behind in developing vocabulary knowledge and reading proficiency.