Children find it easier to spell a word when they’ve already heard it spoken, a new study led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University have found. The findings link oral vocabulary in children to their ability to learn to read new words.
“We found that when children have heard a new word spoken, and know how it is pronounced and what it means, they are then able to process this word with more speed when they have to read it for the first time,” said Signy Wegener, lead researcher of the study.
The results, which are published in the journal Developmental Science, found that children benefit the most from oral familiarity with a word when it sounds the way it is spelled, indicating that predictability of the spelling of a word is an important factor in the process.
“The findings indicate that when children get to the stage where they “read” spoken words for the first time, they have already formed expectations about how the written form of these words should look, even before seeing them in print,” said Wegener.
The researchers assessed the reading abilities of 36 children aged 9 to 10 – an age at which children are expected to have a well-developed knowledge of the mappings between sounds and letters – by tracking their eye movements when they first read a new word. They found that children with prior experience with this new word in oral form spent less time gazing at it in print, indicating that they found it easier to read compared to children who had not heard the word spoken before.
“These findings also support the addition of oral vocabulary instruction in the classroom when it comes to teaching our kids how to spell,” CCD Reading Program Leader Distinguished Prof Anne Castles said.