The ability to learn new written words is modulated by language orthographic consistency


Introduction It is well known that a difficulty in forming lexical representations is a strong predictor of reading and spelling difficulties even after controlling for the effects of other cognitive skills. Our study had two main interrelated aims. First, we wanted to examine whether the ability to learn new written words (lexical learning) varies as a function of the orthographic consistency of the language of the learner. Second, we wanted to evaluate the cognitive abilities involved in orthographic lexical learning and whether they differed as a function of language consistency. Method 163 Italian children and 128 English children performed a lexical learning task as well as tasks assessing several cognitive skills potentially related to the ability to establish orthographic representations. Results We found that children learning an orthographic inconsistent orthography (English) were better able to learn novel written words presented in association with pictures than children learning a consistent orthography (Italian). This was true for both younger and older primary school children and also when children were matched for school grade. Lexical learning may be better in English children because the many irregularities of this language promote storing in memory whole-word representations and processing larger orthographic units. In Italian, instead, reading can be accomplished successfully on the basis of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules and on processing smaller orthographic units. This interpretation was supported by the pattern of cognitive skills associated with lexical learning skills in the two languages. Variations in lexical learning were explained by spatial visual memory and phonological awareness tasks in both languages, but phonological STM explained further variance in Italian, while a task tapping visuo-attentional capacity explained further variance in English. Conclusion Learning a language with inconsistent orthography is associated with better lexical learning skills in children at different stages of primary school; the pattern of cognitive skills associated with lexical learning skills is also partially modulated by orthographic consistency.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences > School of Psychology
Additional Information: © 2020 Marinelli et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all),Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all),General
Publication ISSN: 1932-6203
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Related URLs: https://dx.plos ... al.pone.0228129 (Publisher URL)
http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2020-02-13
Accepted Date: 2020-01-08
Authors: Marinelli, Chiara Valeria
Zoccolotti, Pierluigi
Romani, Cristina (ORCID Profile 0000-0002-5693-4131)



Version: Published Version

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