Phonological awareness has been shown to be important for early literacy development in unilingual readers of English. We investigated its impact in English and Mandarin for 57 multilingual pupils whose language backgrounds were English, Chinese (Mandarin/dialect), or Bahasa Indonesia, using a homophone decision task, an English lexicality spelling test, and a Hanyu Pinyin (romanised Mandarin) spelling test. All three groups of pupils were studying English and Mandarin in the same school, and so, somewhat unusually, the influence of their language background (especially script exposure) could be seen in the absence of differences in teaching strategies. In English, the results showed that a relationship between script exposure and phonological awareness develops in line with the orthographic depth hypothesis (Frost, Katz, & Bentin, 1987). The Bahasa Indonesia group exhibited the highest levels of alphabetic phonological awareness, followed by the English group and then the Chinese group. In Mandarin, the pupils' performance on the Hanyu Pinyin spelling test suggested that tonal phonological awareness is relatively independent of alphabetic phonological awareness. It seems that language background can influence the nature and development of phonological awareness, and that this in turn may affect children's strategies for the subsequent acquisition of a second (or third) written language.