The study explores the relationship between phonological awareness and early reading for bilingual children learning to read in two languages that use different writing systems. Participants were 57 Cantonese--English bilingual 6-year-olds who were learning to read in both languages. The children completed cognitive measures, phonological awareness tasks, and word identification tests in both languages. Once cognitive abilities had been controlled, there was no correlation in word identification ability performance across languages, but the correspondence in phonological awareness measures remained strong. This pattern was confirmed by a principal components analysis and hierarchical regression that demonstrated a different role for each phonological awareness factor in reading performance in each language. The results indicate that phonological awareness depends on a set of cognitive abilities that is applied generally across languages and that early reading depends on a common set of cognitive abilities in conjunction with skills specific to different writing systems.