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Variability and invariance in learning alphabetic orthographies: From linguistic description to psycholinguistic processing

When beginning to learn to read or to spell, children relying on the spoken language they already know, would have to learn only a limited set of correspondences between orthographic and phonological units instead of memorizing an unlimited number of sight words. Thus, whatever the language, phonological processing might be the core of reading and spelling acquisition. However, this acquisition may also depend on specific characteristics of each language. Particularly, the weight of the phonological processing may depend on the degree to which a written system represents the spoken language it encodes. To assess these hypotheses, after a presentation of the main linguistic specificities of four alphabetic written languages (English, French, German and Spanish), we reviewed the psycholinguistic literature. The studies in which were examined reading and spelling skills of young Spanish, German, and French children indicate a strong and early reliance on phonological processing, both in reading and in spelling. They also suggest that the orthographic lexicon is progressively set-up in reading and - but to a lesser extent - in spelling. It is also clearly shown that it is less difficult to learn to read and spell in shallow orthographies than in deeper ones, i.e. in Spanish, German and French compared to English, or in Spanish compared to French. Finally, the phonological reading processing units seem to depend on the phonological structure of each language. A tentative explanation of these results is given. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)



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