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This twin study examined the relative contributions of genes and environment on 2nd language reading acquisition of Chinese-speaking children learning English. We examined whether specific skills-visual word recognition, receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, phonological memory, and speech discrimination-in the 1st and 2nd languages have distinct or overlapping genetic and environmental origins. A sample of 279 Chinese twin pairs with a mean age of 6 years was tested. Univariate twin analyses were used to identify sources of individual variations in reading abilities and related cognitive-linguistic skills in Chinese and English, respectively. They were used to show both similar and distinctive patterns in these skills across Chinese and English. Bivariate Cholesky decomposition analyses indicated genetic overlaps between all parallel Chinese and English variables, as well as shared environmental overlaps in receptive vocabulary and phonological awareness. The phenotypic correlations between 1st and 2nd language skills previously observed in cross-linguistic studies could be explained by the shared genetic and environmental influences found in this twin study. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).

Original publication




Journal article


Dev Psychol

Publication Date





2539 - 2548


Child, Child, Preschool, Gene-Environment Interaction, Humans, Language Development, Language Tests, Memory, Multilingualism, Phonetics, Reading, Speech Perception, Twins, Dizygotic, Twins, Monozygotic, Vocabulary