An Evaluation of the Conceptual Validity of Vowel Blindness as an Explanation for Differences in Arabic Readers’ L2 Word Recognition

Ndrew Allmark

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In an influential study, Ryan and Meara (Read Foreign Lang. 7(2):531–540, 1991) posited that errors in the L2 reading and writing of L1 Arabic learners could be due to vowel blindness: a reduced sensitivity to written vowels deriving from the learners’ L1 Arabic reading experience. Vowel blindness is frequently cited as a cross-linguistic effect influencing the L2 reading and writing outcomes of Arabic learners, yet its conceptual validity has rarely been scrutinised. This article evaluates the validity of the theory as an explanation for differences in L1 Arabic readers’ written word recognition of languages with alphabetic writing systems. The empirical studies included in this review were identified in a systematic scoping review of Arabic L2 word recognition of alphabetic writing systems (reported in Allmark N. A systematic scoping review of evidence pertaining to L2 word recognition among L1 readers of Arabic and its implications for the validity of vowel blindness. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, 2019) whose methodology is summarised in this chapter. The review demonstrates that the current, published evidence is too limited and conflicting to validate vowel blindness. Furthermore, the included studies have methodological weaknesses that limit the overall trustworthiness of their findings. Further research is therefore needed before this phenomenon can be accepted as a factor in poor word recognition among Arabic learners. Recommendations are made for future avenues of research that could improve our understanding of either word recognition or the validity of vowel blindness, and for raising the methodological standards of research in this field.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIndividual and Contextual Factors in the English Language Classroom
Subtitle of host publicationTheoretical, Pedagogical, and Empirical Approaches
PublisherSpringer, Cham
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Mar 23 2022


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