We compared reading acquisition in English and Italian children up to late primary school analyzing RTs and errors as a function of various psycholinguistic variables and changes due to experience. Our results show that reading becomes progressively more reliant on larger processing units with age, but that this is modulated by consistency of the language. In English, an inconsistent orthography, reliance on larger units occurs earlier on and it is demonstrated by faster RTs, a stronger effect of lexical variables and lack of length effect (by fifth grade). However, not all English children are able to master this mode of processing yielding larger inter-individual variability. In Italian, a consistent orthography, reliance on larger units occurs later and it is less pronounced. This is demonstrated by larger length effects which remain significant even in older children and by larger effects of a global factor (related to speed of orthographic decoding) explaining changes of performance across ages. Our results show the importance of considering not only overall performance, but inter-individual variability and variability between conditions when interpreting cross-linguistic differences.
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