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Becoming literate in different languages: Similar problems, different solutions


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The teaching of reading in different languages should be informed by an effective evidence base. Although most children will eventually become competent, indeed skilled, readers of their languages, the pre-reading (e.g. phonological awareness) and language skills that they bring to school may differ in systematic ways for different language environments. A thorough understanding of potential differences is required if literacy teaching is to be optimized in different languages. Here we propose a theoretical framework based on a psycholinguistic grain size approach to guide the collection of evidence in different countries. We argue that the development of reading depends on children's phonological awareness in all languages studied to date. However, we propose that because languages vary in the consistency with which phonology is represented in orthography, there are developmental differences in the grain size of lexical representations, and accompanying differences in developmental reading strategies across orthographies.
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Developmental Science 9:5 (2006), pp 429– 453
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Becoming literate in different languages: similar problems,
different solutions
Johannes C. Ziegler
and Usha Goswami
1. Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive, CNRS and University of Provence, France
2. Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK
For commentaries on this article see Durguno
lu (2006), Frost (2006), De Jong (2006), Paulesu (2006), Caravolas
(2006), Wimmer (2006) and Pugh (2006).
The teaching of reading in different languages should be informed by an effective evidence base. Although most children will
eventually become competent, indeed skilled, readers of their languages, the pre-reading (e.g. phonological awareness) and lan-
guage skills that they bring to school may differ in systematic ways for different language environments. A thorough understanding
of potential differences is required if literacy teaching is to be optimized in different languages. Here we propose a theoretical
framework based on a psycholinguistic grain size approach to guide the collection of evidence in different countries. We argue
that the development of reading depends on children’s phonological awareness in all languages studied to date. However, we
propose that because languages vary in the consistency with which phonology is represented in orthography, there are develop-
mental differences in the grain size of lexical representations, and accompanying differences in developmental reading strategies
across orthographies.
Reading is about gaining access to meaning from
printed symbols. To access meaning from print, the child
must learn the code used by their culture for represent-
ing speech by a series of visual symbols. The first steps
in becoming literate, therefore, require acquisition of the
system for mapping distinctive visual symbols onto units
of sound (phonology). This mapping process is called
phonological recoding
(Share, 1995). Mastery of this
process allows the child to access the thousands of words
that are present in their spoken lexicons prior to reading,
and also to recode words that they have heard but never
seen before. Phonological recoding works well as a
device, because the relationship between symbol
and sound is systematic in most languages (e.g. the symbol
‘D’ is always pronounced /d/ at the beginning of a word).
In contrast, mapping visual symbols directly onto units
of meaning, as would be required by some sort of visual
or ‘logographic’ learning, is difficult because the relation-
ship between symbol and meaning is arbitrary. That is,
knowing that a word starts with the letter ‘D’ tells the
child nothing about its meaning.
It has become quite clear over recent years that visual
learning does not represent a viable alternative to pho-
nological recoding. Share (1995) compares visual learn-
ing to memorizing large slabs of a telephone directory:
Like printed letter strings, telephone numbers contain a
small set of symbols . . . Unless all numbers are dialed cor-
in the right order the connection will fail . . .
Unfortunately, there are no systematic or predictable relation-
ships between these strings and their corresponding entries;
so each of the many thousands of such associations must
be painstakingly committed to memory. There may exist a
few rare individuals who are capable of memorizing entire
telephone directories, but for the normal child about to
learn to read, the absurdity of this task should be obvious.
(Share, 1995, p. 159)
Although phonological recoding is a much more effi-
cient strategy than logographic learning, it nevertheless
has a few problems of its own. The biggest problem has
to do with inconsistency in the symbol-to-sound
Address for correspondence: Usha Goswami, Faculty of Education, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge CB4 1HW, UK; e-mail:
430 Johannes C. Ziegler and Usha Goswami
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
mapping (Ziegler, Stone & Jacobs, 1997). In some ortho-
graphies, one letter or letter cluster can have multiple
pronunciations (e.g. English, Danish), whereas in others
it is always pronounced in the same way (e.g. Greek,
Italian, Spanish). Similarly, in some orthographies, a
phoneme can have multiple spellings (e.g. English,
French, Hebrew), whereas in others it is almost always
spelled the same way (e.g. Italian). English is exception-
ally inconsistent because it exhibits a high degree of
inconsistency in both directions (i.e. for reading and
spelling). This variation across languages makes it likely
that there will be differences in reading development
across languages (and probably also in spelling develop-
ment). It is relatively easy to learn about phonemes if
one letter consistently maps onto one and the same
phoneme, or if one phoneme consistently maps to one
and the same letter. It is relatively difficult to learn about
phonemes if a letter can be pronounced in multiple
ways (e.g. the letter ‘A’ in English maps onto a different
phoneme in the highly familiar words ‘cat’, ‘was’, ‘saw’,
‘made’ and ‘car’).
Reading development across languages
The most ambitious cross-language reading comparison
to date has been conducted by the
European Concerted
Action on Learning Disorders as a Barrier to Human
Participating scientists from 14 European
Community countries developed a matched set of items
of simple real words and nonwords. These items were then
given to children from each country during their first
year of reading instruction (for details see Seymour, Aro
& Erskine, 2003). Thus, children varied in age, but were
equated for degree of reading instruction across ortho-
graphy. Although method of reading instruction itself
could not be equated exactly, schools were chosen so that
all children were experiencing phoneme-level ‘phonics’
teaching. The results are summarized in Table 1.
The most striking finding from the study was that the
children who were acquiring reading in orthographically
consistent languages (Greek, Finnish, German, Italian,
Spanish) were close to ceiling in both word and nonword
reading by the middle of first grade. In contrast, English-
speaking children performed extremely poorly (34%
correct). Danish (71% correct), Portuguese (73% correct)
and French (79% correct) children showed somewhat
reduced levels of recoding accuracy, which is in line with
the reduced consistency of these languages. Analogous
results were obtained in smaller-scale studies, comparing
French, Spanish and English (Goswami, Gombert & de
Barrera, 1998), and English and German (Frith, Wimmer
& Landerl, 1998).
One potential problem with these cross-language com-
parisons are socio-cultural differences across languages.
For example, there may be differences in school systems,
curricula, teaching methods and demographic distribu-
tions. This problem has begun to be addressed, however.
Bruck, Genesee and Caravolas (1997) followed a group
of English- and French-speaking children who were
from the same area in Canada. They investigated word
and nonword reading at the end of grade 1, using high-
frequency regular monosyllabic words and nonwords.
The results showed that the English-speaking children
lagged behind the French-speaking children by about
27% on nonword reading and 24% on word reading.
Similar findings were obtained comparing beginning
reading in English and Welsh. In parts of North Wales,
English and Welsh are spoken and read side by side. In
contrast to English, however, the writing system of
Welsh is highly consistent. Parents choose whether they
want their child to attend English or Welsh schooling.
These schools serve the same geographical catchment
area, are administered by the same local education
authorities, and follow similar curricula and teaching
approaches. The only real difference is the language of
instruction. Yet, the results showed that the Welsh-
speaking children could read well over twice as many
words as the English-speaking children after the same
amount of reading instruction.
Why is reading English so much more difficult?
The reduced consistency of the English writing system in
both reading and spelling is probably the key factor in
explaining the dramatic differences in reading acquisi-
tion across languages. Interestingly, English is particularly
Table 1 Data (% correct) from the large-scale study of reading
skills at the end of grade 1 in 14 European languages (adapted
from Seymour, Aro & Erskine, 2003)
Language Familiar real words Pseudowords
Greek 98 92
Finnish 98 95
German 98 94
Austrian German 97 92
Italian 95 89
Spanish 95 89
Swedish 95 88
Dutch 95 82
Icelandic 94 86
Norwegian 92 91
French 79 85
Portuguese 73 77
Danish 71 54
Scottish English 34 29
Becoming literate in different languages 431
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
inconsistent with respect to small reading units (letters
or letter clusters corresponding to single phonemes).
English is less inconsistent with respect to larger reading
units, such as rimes or syllables (Treiman, Mullennix,
Bijeljac-Babic & Richmond-Welty, 1995). This makes it
likely that English children may be developing recoding
strategies at more than one grain size. There are more
orthographic units to learn when the grain size is big
than when the grain size is small. For instance, in
order to decode the most frequent 3000 monosyllabic
English words at the level of the rime, a child needs to
learn mappings between approximately 600 different
orthographic patterns and 400 phonological rimes, far
more than would be needed if the child could simply
learn how to map 26 letters onto 26 phonemes. But
relying solely on grapheme–phoneme correspondences
leads to inefficient recoding of English. In contrast,
young learners of relatively consistent languages can
focus exclusively at the ‘small’ psycholinguistic grain size
of the phoneme without making many reading errors.
Consistent feedback received in terms of achieving
correct pronunciations will further reinforce the acquisi-
tion process.
Psycholinguistic grain size theory
(Ziegler & Goswami,
2005) takes these factors into account. The theory sug-
gests that the dramatic differences in reading accuracy
and reading speed found across orthographies reflect
fundamental differences in the nature of the phonologi-
cal recoding and reading strategies that are developing
in response to the orthography. Children who are learn-
ing to read more orthographically consistent languages,
such as Greek, German, Spanish or Italian, rely heavily
on grapheme–phoneme recoding strategies because
grapheme–phoneme correspondences are relatively con-
sistent. Children who are learning to read less ortho-
graphically consistent languages, like English, cannot
use smaller grain sizes as easily, because inconsistency is
much higher for smaller grapheme units than for larger
units like rimes. As a consequence, English-speaking
children need to use a variety of recoding strategies,
supplementing grapheme–phoneme conversion strategies
with the recognition of letter patterns for rimes and
attempts at whole word recognition.
Recent studies have indeed shown that inconsistent
orthographies like English appear to push readers into
developing both ‘small unit’ and ‘large unit’ recoding
strategies in parallel (e.g. Brown & Deavers, 1999). To
study the flexible and adaptive use of different grain
sizes in reading English, Goswami and colleagues (Gos-
wami, Ziegler, Dalton & Schneider, 2003) asked German
and English children to read aloud several lists of non-
words. One list contained familiar orthographic patterns
at a larger grain size (‘large unit’ nonwords, like
] and
]). Another list con-
tained only unfamiliar large unit patterns (‘small unit’
nonwords, like
). The prediction was that
if a list contained only ‘large unit’ nonwords, then the
exclusive application of a large grain size strategy should
be very successful. In contrast, if the list contained only
‘small unit’ nonwords, then recoding should be most
successful if an exclusively small grain size strategy was
applied. The critical prediction was for a third ‘mixed’
list. If both types of nonwords were mixed within a par-
ticular list (e.g.
), continual switching between
‘small unit’ and ‘large unit’ processing may be required,
incurring a switching cost. Consistent with this predic-
tion, the results showed switching costs for the English
children but not for the Germans. Blocking word lists by
grain size apparently helped the English readers to focus
at a single grain size, which increased recoding accuracy
particularly for large unit items (like
; here the child
can use rhyme analogies to
, etc.).
German readers did not show these ‘blocking’ effects.
The absence of a blocking effect for the German readers
was taken as evidence that they already relied exclusively
on processing at the small grain size level.
Similar conclusions come from studies on reading
aloud ‘sound-alike’ nonwords, so-called pseudohomo-
phones (e.g. ‘faik’). It has been shown that English
children show much stronger influences from whole
word phonology than German children of the same age
(Goswami, Ziegler, Dalton & Schneider, 2001). That is,
English children showed a significant advantage in naming
pseudohomophones in comparison to orthographic
control nonwords (e.g. ‘faik’ read better than ‘daik’),
whereas German children did not. This suggests that
English children were more affected by whole word pho-
nology when reading nonwords than German children.
German children decoded nonwords that did not sound
like real words as efficiently as nonwords that did sound
like real words, resulting in an absence of the pseudo-
homophone effect in naming.
The important role of teaching
In alphabetic orthographies, the grain size problem is
tackled by the teacher, who typically begins to teach
reading from the single letter. The child is taught letter–
sound correspondences, and hence learns about pho-
nemes. As a result, phonological representations for
words, which typically represent syllable and onset-rime
information prior to reading, are rapidly augmented
with phoneme-level information. Experience with writ-
ten language changes the nature of phonological repre-
sentations. In particular, it boosts phoneme awareness,
432 Johannes C. Ziegler and Usha Goswami
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
which, in turn, becomes the strongest predictor of suc-
cessful reading, a reciprocal relationship (Perfetti, Beck,
Bell & Hughes, 1987; Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky
& Seidenberg, 2001). Small grain size teaching works
well in a language with consistent letter–sound cor-
respondences, such as Italian. However, this teaching
method works less well in a language with less consistent
letter–sound correspondences, such as English.
One approach to this teaching problem in English-
speaking countries has been to begin the teaching of
reading at younger and younger ages, and to focus more
and more at the phoneme level. In England itself, this
approach is formalized in the National Literacy Strategy
(DfEE, 1998), which requires the direct teaching of read-
ing from the age of 5 years beginning with a phoneme-
based strategy. Nevertheless, English children learn to read
more slowly than children from other countries, who
may not begin formal instruction until the age of 7 or
even 8 years. For example, Finnish children begin school
at 7, and are reading with 90% accuracy by approxim-
ately the tenth week in school (e.g. Seymour
et al.
, 2003).
English children who begin school at 4 or 5 years of age
are still struggling to reach 90% accuracy (e.g. for non-
word recoding) by age 9 or 10 (Goswami
et al.
, 1998).
The slower average rate of learning to read in English
does not seem to occur because of variations in teaching
method across different countries. Rather, it seems due
to the relatively low orthographic consistency of English.
This was demonstrated for example in the English/Welsh
comparison described earlier (Ellis & Hooper, 2001).
Converging data come from Landerl (2000). She com-
pared English children who were being taught to read by
a ‘standard’ mixed method of phonics and whole word
recognition with English children following a special
phonics program that focused almost exclusively on
letter–sound correspondences (this was a between-school
comparison conducted before the advent of the National
Literacy Strategy). She reported that the first grade
English phonics children made almost as many errors on
a nonword reading task (43%) as the first grade English
standard children (50%, a non-significant difference)
compared to 12% errors for a matched German sample.
At second grade, a similar pattern was found (English
29% errors, English phonics
23% errors,
German children
13% errors). It was only by third
grade that the English phonics children (7% errors) were
comparable to the German children (14% errors), and
by fourth grade that the English standard children
reached a ‘German’ level of grapheme–phoneme recod-
ing skill (12% errors compared to 11% for the Germans).
The teaching methods characteristic of early literacy
instruction in Turkish provide even more striking evi-
dence for the relatively minor impact of different phonic
teaching regimes (at least, for children with normal pho-
nological skills). Literacy instruction in Turkish elemen-
tary schools does not capitalize particularly on the high
degree of orthographic transparency. In first grade, chil-
dren are given sentences to memorize. They only receive
instruction on individual components such as words,
syllables or letters following successful rote memorization.
Despite this ‘large to small’ grain size method, children
usually get their ‘red ribbons’ symbolizing good decod-
ing skills by December or January of the first school
year (see Durguno
lu & Oney, 2002). In other countries
with highly consistent orthographies, such as Greece and
Hungary, some geographical areas have adopted the
‘whole language’ method of initial reading instruction
(the whole language method has a meaning-based rather
than a code-based emphasis; reading is characterized as
a ‘psycholinguistic guessing game’ bootstrapped by
meaning). It is not yet clear what the effects on initial
reading acquisition will be. However, judging from the
data in Table 1, they are likely to be quite minor for
children with good phonological skills. The effects on
children with poor phonological skills are likely to be
rather greater.
A different approach to the question of the optimal
grain sizes for teaching has been to begin instruction
with correspondences for the larger units that are readily
available in the phonological domain, such as rimes or
syllables. As mentioned above, this approach requires
the child to learn a much larger number of fairly com-
plex letter combinations. Nevertheless, such a ‘large unit’
approach to teaching appears to lead to broadly similar
progress in reading English as ‘small unit’ approaches.
Recently, Walton and his colleagues (Walton, Bowden,
Kurtz & Angus, 2001a; Walton & Walton, 2002; Walton,
Walton & Felton, 2001b) compared the effectiveness of
‘large unit’ and ‘small unit’ approaches to the initial
teaching of reading to children in Canada. In these stud-
ies, they compared the effects of teaching beginning
readers to read by using a ‘rhyme analogy’ strategy
(‘beak’ – ‘peak’, see Goswami, 1986) with the effects of
teaching beginners to read by using a grapheme–
phoneme recoding strategy. All the children were pre-
readers. Reading ability was assessed following 3 months
of training, and four different kinds of words were used
to assess different skills (analogy – irregular patterns
], analogy – regular patterns [
], letter
recoding [
] and nonwords [
]). Walton
et al.
found that both training groups showed broadly equal
reading acquisition gains immediately following train-
ing. However, whereas the rhyme analogy group could
also read new words requiring letter-recoding skills, the
letter-recoding group could not read new words requir-
ing rhyme analogy skills. When reading acquisition was
Becoming literate in different languages 433
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
followed up longitudinally, both treatment groups main-
tained their gains over an unseen control group, but the
rhyme analogy group scored significantly above this
group on all four of the reading outcome measures,
whereas the letter-recoding group only scored signific-
antly above this group on two of the four outcome
A third approach has been whole word teaching (the
so-called ‘look and say’ methods of reading in and out
of vogue since the 1950s). In whole word teaching, chil-
dren are taught to recognize words as holistic units, for
example via the use of flash cards (the whole word is
‘flashed’ at the child, who must learn a pattern–sound
correspondence). ‘Look and say’ methods were shown to
result in slower learning than any phonics-based methods
(irrespective of grain size) by the work of Chall and
others in the 1970s (e.g. Chall, 1967). Exactly the same
conclusion was reached recently by the National Read-
ing Panel (2000) study of early reading in the USA. The
National Reading Panel also compared the effect sizes
reported for ‘large unit’ versus ‘small unit’
ing using a meta-analysis of relevant studies. The meta-
analysis showed that the impact of early ‘large unit’
teaching versus early ‘small unit’ teaching was statistic-
ally indistinguishable, though the impact was signific-
ant in each case (see Ehri, Nunes, Willows, Schuster,
Yaghoub-Zadeh & Shanahan, 2001). This meta-analysis
supports the experimental findings obtained by Walton
and his colleagues.
Taken together, all three approaches to teaching reading
have a role to play in developing efficient word recognition
in relatively inconsistent orthographies (Rayner
et al.
2001). For English, some words (like ‘choir’, ‘people’,
‘yacht’) have to be learned as distinct patterns, because
they have no orthographic neighbors at all. Other words,
like ‘light’, contain rime spellings that are common to
many other words (90 words in English use the rime
pattern ‘-ight’ and are hence orthographic neighbors of
‘light’), and pronunciation at the rime level is consistent
across the neighborhood. Still other words are quite con-
sistent for letter–phoneme recoding (‘cat’, ‘dog’, ‘pen’),
and are easily recoded by traditional ‘phonics’. Never-
theless, small grain size teaching works especially well in
languages with consistent letter–sound correspondences.
It is an empirical question whether children learning to
read such consistent orthographies would benefit from
direct teaching at complementary grain sizes; certainly
such tuition does not seem to do any harm, if children
already have a strong phonological foundation and/or
enough exposure to literacy (e.g. Durguno
lu & Oney,
1999). A related empirical question is whether there is a
level of cognitive architecture for reading that develops
for inconsistent orthographies.
Developmental footprints on skilled reading
Do we need to consider developmental differences for
our understanding of skilled reading? One could argue
that the final product of reading development is the
same in different languages despite different develop-
mental trajectories. But is this the case? To address this
issue, German and English skilled readers were asked to
read aloud words that had highly similar spelling, sound
and meaning in both languages (e.g.
in English
in German; Ziegler, Perry, Jacobs & Braun,
2001). These words were not loan words in the respective
languages, but genuine German and English words.
Orthographic rime effects were used as a marker for
‘large unit’ processing and word length effects as a
marker for ‘small unit’ processing. It was expected that
German readers would show stronger length effects for
the same items compared to English readers, because
their basic processing unit is small. In contrast, English
readers were expected to show stronger rime effects than
German readers. This is exactly what was found, for
both word and nonword reading. This preference must
have been developmentally established, as similar patterns
are found in children (Goswami
et al.
, 1998).
Interestingly, recent simulation work (Perry & Ziegler,
2002) showed that a connectionist learning model (i.e.
the dual process model by Zorzi
et al.
(Zorzi, Houghton
& Butterworth, 1998)) could not predict the behavioral
patterns found. This was because the greater consistency
of the German orthography actually drove the German
model to process larger units rather than smaller units.
The model adopted the opposite processing pattern to
the one observed for the German adults. At the same
time, the dual route cascaded model (DRC; Coltheart,
Rastle, Perry, Langdon & Ziegler, 2001), which can pre-
dict the length effect found in German (i.e. the small
grain size effect), could not predict the greater reliance
of English adults on orthographic rime units. This is
probably because neither phonological nor orthographic
processing is sensitive to rime size units in this model.
Thus, data such as these seem to suggest that skilled
reading cannot be fully understood unless one takes into
account the footprints that development leaves on reading.
Implications for theories of reading
Until recently, the most prominent cross-language read-
ing theory has been the
orthographic depth hypothesis
(ODH; Frost, Katz & Bentin, 1987; Katz & Frost, 1992),
which was based on the dual route model of reading
et al.
, 2001). The ODH does not postulate
that different psycholinguistic units develop in response
434 Johannes C. Ziegler and Usha Goswami
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
to differences in orthography. Rather, the ODH suggests
that readers adapt their reliance on the ‘orthographic’
(whole word recognition) or ‘phonological’ (recoding)
route, depending on the demands of the orthography.
In a consistent orthography, readers rely more on the
‘phonological’ or nonlexical route, because the mapping
between letters and sounds is relatively direct and un-
ambiguous. In an inconsistent orthography, readers rely
less on the phonological route and to a greater extent on
the lexical or ‘orthographic’ route.
One key prediction of the ODH is that phonological
effects should be reduced in a relatively inconsistent
orthography such as English. However, a large number
of studies found strong phonological effects in English
in a variety of paradigms (Perfetti & Bell, 1991; Rayner,
Sereno, Lesch & Pollatsek, 1995; Van Orden, 1987;
Ziegler, Van Orden & Jacobs, 1997). Although Katz and
Frost correctly point out that such data only challenge
the strong version of the ODH, according to which
people who read deep orthographies
use phono-
logical information, such studies still show that phono-
logical processes play a role in reading both consistent
and inconsistent orthographies. Indeed, some of the
original advocates of the ODH have come to the follow-
ing conclusion: ‘We no longer believe that the difference
(between shallow and deep orthographies) is one of
whether or not phonology is routinely involved in visual
word recognition . . . we now think that the difference is
merely methodological, a matter of the greater simplicity
with which one can contrive an experimental demonstra-
tion of phonological involvement’ (Lukatela & Turvey,
1999, p. 1069).
Given that English seems to lie at the extreme end of
the consistency continuum with regard to orthography–
phonology relationships, it might even be the case that
the prominent dual route architecture (i.e. two separate
routes to pronunciation in the skilled reading system)
may in fact only develop for English. This is a particu-
larly striking idea given the large number of studies
of reading conducted in English, and the influence that
theoretical models of reading in English have had on
models in other languages.
Importance of grain size, reading strategy and
teaching method
How important are considerations of grain size for under-
standing reading development in different languages?
One test is to see whether existing connectionist learning
models derived for English can simulate reading develop-
ment in consistent and inconsistent orthographies with-
out taking differences in grain size, reading strategies
or teaching methods into account. To explore this
question, Hutzler
et al.
(Hutzler, Ziegler, Perry, Wimmer
& Zorzi, 2004) compared the performance of two major
connectionist reading models in two languages, the
model (Plaut, McClelland, Seidenberg & Patterson, 1996)
and the
two-layer associative
model (Zorzi
et al.
, 1998).
These models were trained on a comparable database of
German and English words, and were tested on an iden-
tical set of German and English nonwords at different
stages during the process of learning to read. The
authors found that both models showed an overall
advantage for the more consistent orthography (i.e. an
advantage for German over English). However, the
networks exhibited no cross-language differences during
initial learning phases. Rather, there were increasingly
large differences during later learning phases. This is the
opposite of the empirical pattern (Frith
et al.
, 1998;
et al.
, 2001), where German beginning readers
outperform English beginning readers but differences
are attenuating by a reading age of around 10 years.
It seems that the models fail to capture the cross-
language learning rate effect because they only deal with
aspects of the learning process. Both models
are presented with words that are fully segmented into
letters, and they learn about their correspondences with
a phonology that is already fully specified in terms of
phonemes. In essence, the
between the two
domains is the only thing that is learned. The models
behave as if they already contained fully specified ortho-
graphic and phonological representations prior to read-
ing. Also, the learning process itself is modelled as
beyond the control of the reader or the teacher – it is
implicit. In real life, however, learning to read starts out
processes, such as the explicit teaching of
small grain-size correspondences. It is these explicit
processes and their potential interactions with the more
implicit aspects of lexical processing that are missing
from the models.
As we have argued, a key feature of learning to read
consistent orthographies is the reliability of correspond-
ences at small grain sizes. This boosts the acquisition of
phonological recoding and phonemic awareness, espe-
cially during the early phases of reading acquisition, and
seems to have long-lasting effects on the skilled reading
system (Ziegler
et al.
, 2001). Given that current connec-
tionist learning models are not sufficiently sensitive to
the fact that literacy acquisition in consistent ortho-
graphies starts out with explicit teaching of small-unit
correspondences, the failure of these models to fully
capture the empirical data is not surprising. In fact,
when Hutzler
et al.
(2004) pre-trained Zorzi’s two-layer
associative model on simple grapheme–phoneme cor-
respondences prior to the word learning process, thus
Becoming literate in different languages 435
© 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
imitating what happens during phonics teaching, the
model accurately predicted the cross-language learning
rate effect. Together, these data suggest that new connec-
tionist models need to be developed that can encompass
critical developmental processes.
Conclusions and future directions
The present review clearly suggests that future researchers
will need to integrate domains that have traditionally
worked in isolation. Classically researchers have
designed their experiments as though skilled reading was
unaffected by reading and language development. Here,
we suggest that future research needs to construct critical
manipulations that can track the mutual dependencies
across these domains at different points in development
and across different language environments. This is par-
ticularly important if the teaching of reading in different
languages is to be informed by an effective evidence
base. Systematic cross-language research conducted
within a psycholinguistic grain size framework is bound
to yield rich pedagogical rewards.
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... Third, if the emergence of abstract orthographic representations is experience-dependent, then it will be driven by individual differences in beginning readers (Castles et al., 2007;Share, 2008), for whom phonological recoding is predominant, with strong flows of activation between orthographic and phonological representations at sublexical level (e.g., Ziegler & Goswami, 2006). We thus examined whether the two reading components extracted from independent literacy-related tasks contribute to automation of mirror-image discrimination. ...
... These constructs cannot be easily disentangled. Even in orthographies with some degree of inconsistency, like European-Portuguese, both contribute for reading and literacy-related abilities (Duncan et al., 2013;Landerl et al., 2022;Share, 1995Share, , 2008Ziegler & Goswami, 2006). Thus, significant associations were found between performance in all tasks underpinned by phonological recoding. ...
Discrimination of reversible mirrored letters (e.g., d and b) poses a challenge when learning to read as it requires overcoming mirror invariance , an evolutionary‐old perceptual tendency of processing mirror images as equivalent. The present study investigated when , in reading development, mirror‐image discrimination becomes automatic during visual word recognition. The developmental trajectory of masked priming effects was investigated from 2nd to 6th grade and in adults, by manipulating letter type (nonreversible; reversible) and prime condition (control; identity; mirrored; rotated). Standardized identity priming increased along reading development. Beginning readers showed mirror invariance during reversible and nonreversible letter processing. A mirror cost (slower word recognition in mirrored‐letter than identity prime condition) was found by 5th‐grade but only for reversible letters. By 6th grade, orthographic processing was no longer captive of mirror invariance. A multiple linear regression showed that letter representations, but not phonological processes or age, were a reliable predictor of the rise of mirror‐image discrimination in 2nd–4th‐graders. The present results suggest a protracted development of automatic mirror‐image discrimination during orthographic processing, contingent upon the quality of abstract letter representations. RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS We traced the developmental trajectory of mirrored‐letter and rotated‐letter priming effects (e.g., i b ea and i p ea as primes of I D EA) in visual word recognition. Beginning readers (2nd–4th‐graders) showed mirror invariance and plane‐rotation sensitivity in orthographic processing, thus still being susceptible to the perceptual biases in charge in object recognition. A mirror cost was found in 5th‐graders but only for reversible letters; orthographic processing was no longer captive of mirror invariance by 6th‐grade. The automation of mirror‐image discrimination during orthographic processing depends on the quality of letter representations but not on phonological processes or age.
... It is relatively easier to learn about phonemes if a letter is consistently assigned to the same phoneme or if a phoneme is consistently set to the same letter. In contrast, it can be more challenging to learn about phonemes if a letter can be pronounced in various ways (for example, the letter 'A' in English corresponds to a different phoneme in the very familiar words 'cat' and 'made') (Davies et al., 2007;Ziegler & Goswami, 2006). ...
Background: Gamification and game-based learning can provide motivating learning opportunities. The scientific literature suggests that these play strategies could be supportive tools for the learning of students with diagnosed dyslexia. Aims: This study compares the effectiveness of an educational gamification and game-based learning (GBL) methodology versus a transmissive methodology for the improvement of reading processes and academic performance in the subject of Spanish Language and Literature in Spanish high school students with dyslexia. Methods and Procedures: Longitudinal quasi-experimental research was conducted with control and experimental groups. Ninety students with a mean age of 14.22 years (SD = 0.95) participated in the study. The assessment instruments used were the PROLEC-SE reading process assessment battery and academic performance through subject grades. The intervention with the experimental group consisted of gamification and GBL of 15 one-hour sessions in which students' oral and written skills were worked with playful learning strategies. Outcomes and Results: The results indicate that the experimental group had statistically significant improvement in their reading skills (η 2 g = 0.616) and academic performance, albeit less in pseudoword speed, compared to the control group (η 2 g = 0.197). Conclusion and Implications: The study highlights the usefulness of gamification and GBL as practical tools for meaningful learning in students with dyslexia. What this paper adds? This research provides evidence on the effect of gamification and game-based learning (GBL) on the academic performance and reading processes of Spanish students diagnosed with dyslexia. The programme is detailed to make it replicable for other teachers and researchers. The intervention carried out with these students has shown statistically significant differences between those who have taken the gamification programme and those who have received a transmissive education in favour of the gamification and GBL group.
... Many studies have found that teaching ELLs strategies to read words is necessary to prepare them to gain access to meaning from printed symbols (Ehri, 2004;Ziegler & Goswami, 2006). Additionally, some ELLs are faced with the challenge of discriminating between two languages with a shared script (Jared et al., 2013). ...
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This chapter, based on a workshop, outlines the importance and benefits of using a student's first language to support their academic development in all areas. This chapter reviews language immersion programs, as well as the social context around refugee and immigrant students in Canada. We then discuss the typical timeline for second-language development and the strategies that can be useful to assess these students on their own respective timelines. A case study is then discussed in detail, and participant feedback from the workshop is highlighted. Finally, we present the lessons learned during our conversations in the workshop and then discuss their implications for teachers, educators, parents, and other stakeholders. Overall, we emphasize that every teacher has a role to play in language development, regardless of their teaching specialization. We then provide practical tips throughout the chapter to help teachers make small, meaningful changes in the classroom.
... Such attempts are less in other writing systems like morpho-semantic or akshara writing systems. Ziegler and Goswami (2006) argue that phonological awareness significantly influences reading skills in almost all languages studied. But developmental differences occur because of the differences in phonological units and lexical grain sizes of the units and consistency in orthography-phonology mappings. ...
Learning to read is a complex process that involves phonological and orthographic processing abilities, broader language skills and cognitive processes across all writing systems. Although these components remain common, the pace of acquisition of phonological and orthographic processing and reading abilities differ across writing systems. This study aimed to understand the developmental pattern of reading and phonological processing, assess their interrelationship and study the predictors of reading ability among 175 children, learning to read Malayalam and attending Grades 1–3. They completed various reading (akshara reading, word and nonword reading) and phonological processing (rhyme recognition, syllable deletion, syllable segmentation, phoneme deletion, phoneme substitution, rapid naming and nonword repetition) tasks. Grade and reading level‐based analysis was performed to collate the results. Results revealed a significant overlap of phonological processing and reading abilities among children in Grades 2 and 3. Reading scores demonstrated a weak‐to‐moderate significant correlation with the phonological processing tasks. Although skilled readers performed significantly better on all phonological processing tasks, their scores did not reach ceiling. Syllable‐level tasks were easier compared to phoneme‐level tasks, and they significantly predicted the reading abilities of children. The findings contribute to the existing body of evidence for akshara writing systems, specifically in Malayalam alpha‐syllabary. The development of phonological processing and reading in Malayalam extends beyond the third grade, and syllable processing contributed to increased variance in reading accuracy among inexperienced readers. What is already known about this topic Crosslinguistic research evidence suggests a difference in reading acquisition patterns among different writing systems. Studies in akshara writing systems have demonstrated that akshara knowledge develops over time and a reciprocal relationship exists between phonological processing and reading abilities. Syllable‐level processing emerges earlier than phoneme‐level processing and predicts reading accuracy. The architecture of the akshara explains this pattern of development and the importance of phoneme processing to become more skilled with akshara reading. What this paper adds This paper adds to the existing evidence on reading acquisition in an akshara writing system, Malayalam, with the power of an explanatory model. A model of syllable and phoneme processing and akshara knowledge explains 87.8% of the variance in reading accuracy scores of Malayalam readers in early grades. The mastery of reading acquisition in Malayalam continues to develop beyond Grade 3. Phoneme manipulations are difficult compared to syllable manipulations, and mastery of these extends well beyond Grade 3. Phoneme processing remains low among unskilled readers and syllable processing accounts for the variance in reading performance. Implications for theory, policy or practice The study adds to the body of evidence concerning the theoretical underpinnings of learning to read, against the backdrop of Malayalam alphasyllabary. The interrelationships between phonological processing and reading accuracy imply that intervention strategies to improve reading should address both domains. Policy‐related implication is that the strategies to teach reading to young readers should consider a phoneme level instruction strategy alongside akshara teaching across different akshara types considering the complexity and nature of the Malayalam orthography.
Retrieval practice typically benefits learning in children, although little is known about the benefits of retrieval practice for learning spelling. We investigated this issue in three experiments with fifth-grade children from a low-income area of Brazil. In the experiments, children first read a list of words (study), and after a short interval wrote down the studied words after hearing and rereading them (copy) or after only hearing them (retrieval practice). After an interval of 4 days, spelling performance was greater for words from the retrieval practice condition than for words from the copy condition, but only when immediate corrective feedback was provided (Experiment 3). The current findings, therefore, suggest that retrieval practice followed by corrective feedback is an effective strategy to improve spelling performance of fifth-grade children.
Given English orthography's quasi-regular nature, applying common decoding rules to a word does not always result in a correct pronunciation matching the stored phonological form (e.g., the word tongue). To arrive at a correct pronunciation, developing readers must make the match between a decoded pronunciation and a word's correct pronunciation stored in memory. Developmentally, this matching process varies as a function of child skill (e.g., decoding, vocabulary) and word characteristics (e.g., spelling-to-pronunciation transparency, concreteness), with each being continuously distributed. Spelling-to-pronunciation transparency ratings represent a global measure of the ease of arriving at a word's correct pronunciation from its decoded pronunciation and in experimental studies has been shown to be a critical dimension in assessing the difficulty of a word for developing readers (e.g., Steacy et al., 2022a, 2022b). This study aimed to create a database of spelling-to-pronunciation transparency ratings for the 23,282 most frequently written English words, made available in the supplemental materials for future analyses. We asked adults to rate words' spelling-to-pronunciation transparency on a scale of 1-6 (1 = very easy to match, 6 = very difficult). Results of multiple regression analyses revealed variance in ratings to be unaccounted for by other word features, demonstrating the uniqueness of these ratings. Furthermore, words that are considered irregular, classified previously as strange, or contained at least one schwa received higher ratings, demonstrating strong associations between transparency and regularity. Lastly, these ratings significantly predicted both adult word naming time and child word reading accuracy above and beyond other word features known to predict reading.
The link between orthographic processing skills and reading and spelling abilities has been demonstrated in different studies and languages. However, previous research has not fully clarified this relationship. We examined the relationship between orthographic knowledge and reading and spelling performance in children from the second to the fifth grade of elementary school. We included measures of orthographic knowledge in two scripts (Latin and Cyrillic) for the same language, at both the lexical and sublexical levels. Word-specific orthographic knowledge was assessed by presenting children with pairs of words in which one word followed the orthographic rules of the Bosnian language, while the other was spelled incorrectly. General orthographic knowledge was assessed with an orthographic word-likeness task, where children had to choose the correct pseudoword, which followed legal orthographic patterns, while the incorrect ones did not. Reading and spelling, phonological awareness, and working memory were also included in the research. In Latin, no relationship was found between reading and spelling and orthographic knowledge, independent of the measure of orthographic processing. In Cyrillic, spelling performance predicts progress in general orthographic knowledge. The results of the study suggest that orthographic knowledge does not contribute to reading and spelling between Grades 2 and 3. General orthographic knowledge was an independent predictor of spelling in Grades 4 and 5 for Cyrillic, the second script. The findings suggest that the development of orthographic knowledge should be considered in the context of the specific language, script, and orthography.
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La participación de los estudiantes en debates con sus familiares y amigos sobre asuntos que tienen que ver con la política o la sociedad, la eficacia política interna y las expectativas sociopolíticas de participación son indicadores de compromiso cívico adolescente. El objetivo de este estudio fue analizar la influencia de la participación comunicativa sociopolítica de los adolescentes de España en las expectativas de participación sociopolítica, de forma directa y a través de la eficacia política interna según el género. Esta investigación basada en el proyecto “Barómetro OPINA” fue un estudio transversal y participaron en él 4711 adolescentes con edades comprendidas entre los 13 y los 18 años. Los instrumentos utilizados fueron tres escalas que medían los indicadores de compromiso cívico propuestos. Se realizaron comparaciones de media, un modelo de ecuaciones estructurales y un análisis de invarianza según el género. Los resultados obtenidos mostraron diferencias significativas en las puntuaciones de expectativas de participación sociopolítica y eficacia política interna. El modelo mostró buenos indicadores de ajuste sin efectos de mediación e invarianza según el género. El estudio concluye que debates sociopolíticos con familiares y amigos o ver noticias explica las creencias que tienen los jóvenes sobre cómo influir en la política y cómo intervenir en un futuro en situaciones que beneficien a su comunidad.
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En la actualidad, existe consenso sobre que la Conciencia Fonológica (CF) es un precursor clave para aprender a leer en lenguas que cuentan con un sistema de representación alfabético. La CF no constituye una entidad homogénea, sino que se considera la existencia de diferentes niveles de CF que se van desarrollando de manera gradual. El objetivo de esta investigación fue observar el desarrollo de un conjunto de habilidades de CF en un grupo de preescolares de una escuela pública de Montevideo, que crecen en situación de pobreza. Se realizó un estudio de carácter longitudinal y se evaluó a los preescolares en diferentes habilidades de CF, inteligencia fluida y vocabulario receptivo al inicio y término del año escolar. Los resultados mostraron niveles mínimos de conciencia silábica al finalizar el periodo preescolar, y un desempeño descendido para la edad en todas las demás tareas fonológicas evaluadas. Estos resultados nos conducen a reflexionar sobre la importancia de las intervenciones tempranas en el aula de nivel inicial, de modo de atender las diferencias que se generan temprano en el desarrollo de habilidades que son fundamentales para aprender a leer y, de este modo, mitigar la brecha de rendimiento académico vinculada a factores sociodemográficos.
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Recent studies suggest that performance attendant on visual word perception is affected not only by feedforward inconsistency (i.e., multiple ways to pronounce a spelling) but also by feedback inconsistency (i.e., multiple ways to spell a pronunciation). In the present study, we provide a statistical analysis of these types of inconsistency for all monosyllabic English words. This database can be used as a tool for controlling, selecting, and constructing stimulus materials for psycholinguistic and neuropsychological research. Such large-scale statistical analyses are necessary devices for developing metrics of inconsistency, for generating hypotheses for psycholinguistic experiments, and for building models of word perception, speech perception, and spelling.
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The aim of this study was to determine the cognitive processes of adult literacy acquisition. We assessed the progress of 59 women participating in an intensive adult literacy program that we have developed in Turkey. After only 90 hr of instruction, there were significant improvements in letter and word recognition, phonological awareness, and spelling levels. Word recognition and spelling were predicted by phonological awareness. The results were consistent with studies on children's literacy acquisition, which show the critical nature of phonological awareness in literacy acquisition.
Prereading kindergartners were assigned to groups that varied experience with (a) the rime analogy reading strategy; (b) the implicated prereading skills of rhyming, initial phoneme identity, and letter-sounds; or (c) a control group. Teaching in the rime analogy strategy and the prereading skills resulted in more reading than teaching in the rime analogy strategy or prereading skills alone. Many children developed the untaught abilities of medial and final phoneme identity and the letter recoding reading strategy. Children with high prereading skill levels read the most words, and the use of specific prereading skills varied across different reading word types. Working memory was unrelated to increases in prereading skills or reading. Children were able to generalize the rime analogy strategy to read words with unfamiliar rime spellings.
This chapter discusses that the varying dependence on the alphabetic principle may mean for the mental processes involved in reading and writing. Within the group of alphabetic orthographies itself, there are varying degrees of dependence on the strict alphabetic principle: the range of correspondence between grapheme and phoneme varies both in consistency and completeness. The degree of this dependence is to some extent a function of a language's characteristic phonology and morphology, just as was the choice of the kind of orthography itself. Even among the various alphabetic writing systems themselves, there are major differences in the degree to which they mirror the phonemic structure of their respective spoken languages. The reason for the differences is largely accounted for by the particular phonological and morphological characteristics of each language. For example, standard written Hebrew is an orthography in which all diacritics (or points) are omitted. These diacritics represent nearly all of the vowels and are also used to disambiguate some of the consonants.
Subjects read sentences containing target words that were homophones (words with a single pronunciation but different spellings) while their eye movements were recorded A prime word was presented briefly at the onset of fixation on the target region The prime for a given target (e g, beach) was either identical to the target (beach), a phonologically similar word (the homophone beech), a visually similar nonhomophone (bench), or a dissimilar word (noise) Phonological priming effects were assessed by comparing fixation times on the target when it was preceded by the homophone versus the visually similar word Results suggest that phonological codes are automatically activated during eye fixations in reading