There is evidence that the ability to segment an utterance into words improves with literacy, yet previous research makes it difficult to disentangle the effect of literacy from that of age or cognitive abilities. We tested the hypothesis that literacy increases lexical segmentation in a second language in a unique sample of adult illiterates learning to read in their second language, controlling for cognitive abilities and using a task that taps language processing rather than only metalinguistic awareness. Participants' segmentation was correlated with first language reading at the beginning of an intensive literacy course for illiterate adults. At the end of the course, those learning to read for the first time benefited more in terms of their segmentation abilities. We discuss implications for models of second language learning.
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