This study aimed to examine the effects of visual characteristics of Arabic orthography on learning to read compared to Hebrew among Arabic and Hebrew bilinguals in an elementary bilingual education framework. Speed and accuracy measures were examined in reading words and non-words in Arabic and Hebrew as follows: Arabic words and non-words composed of connected and similar letters, words and non-words composed of connected and non-similar letters, and words and non-words composed of unconnected letters. In Hebrew, words and non-words composed of similar letters and non-similar letters. It was found that Arabic speakers showed an almost equal control in all reading tasks in both languages whereas, Hebrew speakers showed better performance in their mother tongue in all reading tasks. In Arabic, the best performance was in reading words and non-words that was unconnected. Based on these findings, it was concluded that Hebrew speakers did not succeed in transferring their good ability in reading their mother tongue to reading the second language, apparently due to the unique nature of the Arabic orthography. Our findings with regard to the cross-linguistic research literature as well as the specific features of Arabic language are discussed.
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