Comparing and Validating Methods of Reading Instruction Using Behavioural and Neural Findings in an Artificial Orthography
There is strong scientific consensus that emphasizing print-to-sound relationships is critical when learning to read alphabetic languages. Nevertheless, reading instruction varies across English-speaking countries, from intensive phonic training to multicuing environments that teach sound- and meaning-based strategies. We sought to understand the behavioral and neural consequences of these differences in relative emphasis. We taught 24 English-speaking adults to read 2 sets of 24 novel words (e.g., /buv/, /sig/), written in 2 different unfamiliar orthographies. Following pretraining on oral vocabulary, participants learned to read the novel words over 8 days. Training in 1 language was biased toward print-to-sound mappings while training in the other language was biased toward print-to-meaning mappings. Results showed striking benefits of print–sound training on reading aloud, generalization, and comprehension of single words. Univariate analyses of fMRI data collected at the end of training showed that print–meaning relative to print–sound relative training increased neural effort in dorsal pathway regions involved in reading aloud. Conversely, activity in ventral pathway brain regions involved in reading comprehension was no different following print–meaning versus print–sound training. Multivariate analyses validated our artificial language approach, showing high similarity between the spatial distribution of fMRI activity during artificial and English word reading. Our results suggest that early literacy education should focus on the systematicities present in print-to-sound relationships in alphabetic languages, rather than teaching meaning-based strategies, in order to enhance both reading aloud and comprehension of written words.