Learning new words through reading: do robust spelling–sound mappings boost learning of word forms and meanings?

Rachael C. Hulme, Laura R. Shapiro, Joanne S. H. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


High-quality lexical representations depend on robust representations of written form (orthography), spoken form (phonology) and meaning (semantics), and strong bonds between them. Quality of lexical representations may be affected by amount of print exposure and the form of individual words. Words that are harder to decode (print-to-sound) may lead to fuzzy representations of the orthographic and phonological forms, potentially creating less stable foundations for semantic knowledge. These factors are difficult to disentangle in natural language research; in this registered report, we experimentally manipulated decoding ease and exposure at the item level. Adults read paragraphs describing invented meanings of pseudowords. Pseudowords appeared two or six times in a paragraph, and had easy (e.g. bamper) or hard (e.g. uzide) to decode spelling–sound mappings. Post-tests assessed word-form knowledge, orthography–semantic mappings and semantic–phonology mappings. Results showed that greater decoding ease improved learning of word forms and consequently also impacted on word meanings. Higher exposure frequency improved learning of word forms but not meanings. Exposure frequency also modulated the effect of decoding ease on word-form learning, with a stronger effect of decoding ease for fewer exposures. Disentangling effects of decoding ease from print exposure has important implications for understanding potential barriers to vocabulary learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number210555
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2022


  • Reading
  • Vocabulary learning
  • Decoding ease
  • Orthography
  • Semantics


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