Challenges of learning to spell across orthographies

Challenges of learning to spell across orthographies

First Author: Barbara Arfe -- University of Padova
Keywords: Development, Developmental dyslexia, Spelling
Abstract / Summary: 

Learning to spell and mapping speech sounds into letters is a complex cognitive and linguistic process in all orthographies. The kind of challenges children face in learning to spell words and the kind of teaching that supports best spelling acquisition could vary according to the characteristics of the orthographic system to learn. In this symposium, the learning of spelling is examined across orthographies varying for shallowness (Finnish, Italian, Portuguese and English), and with focus on different spelling units (syllables, rimes, multiletter, phonemes and letters). Castro et al. and Caravolas et al. focus on the challenges of learning to spell in less transparent orthographic systems (Portuguese and English), Arfé et al.’s paper zooms on a more shallow orthography (Italian), and finally Lyytinen presents data on a reading/spelling intervention (grapholearn) spanning across several orthographies (Finnish, French , Spanish, and African). Implications for spelling research and instruction will be discussed based on these contributions.

Symposium Papers: 

How the complexities of an orthography of intermediate depth, Portuguese, modulate learning to spell

First Author/Chair:São Luís Castro -- University of Porto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Lénia Carvalhais; Ana Mesquita ; Teresa Limpo

Purpose: This study aimed to examine how the complexities of the Portuguese spelling system in-fluence children’s learning to spell during elementary school. Additionally, we examined lexicality effects by comparing spelling accuracy in words and pseudowords.
Method: Participants were 189 Portuguese-speaking children from Grade 2 (n = 71), Grade 3 (n = 49) and Grade 4 (n = 69), with an average age of 8 years and 2 months. Children performed a Word Dictation test composed of 56 words divided into eight complexity categories: complex graphemes, stress marks, positional regularities, contextual regularities, consonantal clusters, silent letter <h>, and inconsistencies. An equivalent Pseudoword Dictation test was also administered.
Results: We found that the children’s performance in the spelling test improved from Grade 2 (62%) to Grade 3 (75%) but not from Grade 3 to 4 (75%). An examination of performance accord-ing to complexity categories showed that second graders easily applied phoneme-to-grapheme cor-respondences, but struggled in spelling words containing the silent <h>, stress marks and inconsist-ences (percentage of correct spellings: 20%, 29%, and 50%, respectively). This pattern of findings was similar in Grades 3 and 4. Finally, we observed an advantage in spelling words over pseudowords in Grades 3 and 4, but not in Grade 2.
Conclusions: These findings reveal the importance of using specific strategies to improve chil-dren’s knowledge in orthographies of intermediate depth, such as, in the case of the Portuguese spelling system, a focus on the use of the silent <h>, stress marks and inconsistencies.

How do language-based and handwriting-based difficulties manifest in the spellings of children with dyslexia?

First Author/Chair:Markéta Caravolas -- Bangor University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Cameron Downing

Purpose. Phoneme awareness and letter knowledge difficulties are predictive of spelling difficulty in dyslexia. Studies of handwriting dynamics observe that dyslexic children have slower and more dysfluent rates of letter production than typical spellers, and ascribe these to difficulties letter/grapheme selection. We tested the latter claim by examining the co-occurrence of children’s letter-level handwriting difficulties with misspellings of specific letters.
Method. English (UK)-speaking children in Years 3, 4, and 5 with (n = 28, Mage = 111.36, 68% male) and without (n=28, Mage = 110.11, 68% male) dyslexia wrote seven sentences containing 48 words on a digitizing tablet using pen tracking software. Spelling accuracy was evaluated at word- and letter-level for accuracy. Handwriting was assessed for letter legibility, and intra-word writing fluency. Additionally, letter knowledge and phoneme awareness were also measured.
Results. Children with dyslexia spelled significantly less accurately (d = 2.68) than controls. The most discriminating feature of their handwriting legibility was poorer letter formation (d = 1.09). Online measures of handwriting confirmed dyslexics’ more frequent (η2 = .11) and longer (η2 = .12) intraword pausing, especially within words with misspelt letters (d = .73). Measures of letter spelling accuracy, letter legibility, and intraword pausing were significantly intercorrelated, and predicted by abilities in phoneme awareness and letter naming speed.
Conclusions. Dyslexic children’s language-based difficulties manifest not only in traditional indicators of misspelling, such as phonological and orthographic misrepresentations, but also in handwriting behaviours, including letter legibility and fluency. We will report whether handwriting difficulties of children with dyslexia are traceable directly to letter-level spelling problems.

Training implicit learning of spelling rules in Italian children with developmental dyslexia.

First Author/Chair:Barbara Arfé -- University of Padova
Additional authors/chairs: 
Elisa Cona; Anne Merella

Purpose: Implicit or statistical learning is considered a fundamental learning mechanism for learning spelling patterns that are typical of the language. In children with developmental dyslexia (DD) this mechanism is considered to be impaired and thus explicit learning processes are used to compensate for the spelling problems of these children. The present study tested the efficacy of an intervention to facilitate implicit learning of context-sensitive spelling rules of Italian children with DD.

Method: Phonological-orthographic mapping during spelling was implicitly modeled in 6 sessions of intervention with focus on syllables and multiletter units. Thirty-eight elementary-aged children with DD were assigned either to this (syllabic-multiletter mapping) condition (n = 19) or to a comparison condition (n = 19) in which phonological (one-to-one) spelling procedures and spelling from dictation were used to train word spelling. The two groups were matched on intelligence, vocabulary, and their spelling skills at pretest.

Results: The experimental group showed significant improvements in spelling
the words trained during the intervention and generalized their acquired spelling knowledge to untrained words. The comparison group also showed improvements, but these were in most cases not significant. Moreover, this group did not show generalization to untrained words.

Conclusions: The results suggest that the implicit modeling of phonological–orthographic mapping of spelling units larger than phonemes and graphemes can be an effective strategy to develop implicit learning of rule-based spelling patterns of Italian children with DD.

Graphogame instructs both reading and spelling in several orthographies

First Author/Chair:Heikki Lyytinen -- University of Jyväskylä

Purpose: Graphogame builds on the basis of the results of the Jyväskylä Longitudinal study of Dyslexia (JLD). The aim of the tool is to drill the basic reading skills of children learning in different orthographies. Findings from the JLD inform us that children at familial risk for dyslexia show insensitivity to basic auditory changes (such as of pitch) during infancy, as shown by brain event related potentials documented by comparing children at risk who develop dyslexia to those who do not. Graphogame focuses on the discrimination of such sounds which the learner has difficultes to perceive as different (e.g., l, m and n) and on their mappings onto single letters. In English, the connections are based on larger units such as rimes.

Method: Until now graphogame has been implemented to support the learning of many orthographies, including African, English, French, and Spanish and intervention studies have been carried out to test its efficacy.

Results: The results show that children’s spelling is elevated even more than the basic reading skills as a result of grapholearn intervention and even children with dyslexia learn relatively fast.

Conclusions: Graphogame has been shown to be very effective in promoting the basic reading skills of children at risk of dyslexia as shown by several behavioral studies and several studies based on its brain-related effects. Today it is under study in more than 30 countries almost ten of which are soon getting it for dissemination for all in need (see

Challenges of learning to spell across orthographies

First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Catherine McBride -- The Chinese University of Hong Kong