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Training Implicit Learning of Spelling in Italian Children With Developmental Dyslexia

Arfé, Barbara; Cona, Elisa; Merella, Anne

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000163
Original Articles

It had been hypothesized that, in developmental dyslexia (DD), an implicit learning deficit explains children's problems in encoding the phoneme–grapheme correspondences underlying the writing system and thus the development of spelling skills. The present study tested the efficacy of an intervention to facilitate implicit learning of context-sensitive spelling rules with Italian children with DD. Mapping of phonological and orthographic information during spelling was implicitly modeled during 6 sessions of intervention. Thirty-eight elementary-aged children with DD were assigned either to this (phonological–orthographic mapping) condition (n = 19) or to a comparison condition (n = 19) in which phonological spelling procedures and spelling from dictation were used to train word spelling. The two groups were matched on intelligence, vocabulary, and their spelling skills at pretest. The experimental group showed significant improvements in spelling the words trained during the intervention and generalized their acquired spelling knowledge to untrained words. The comparison group also showed improvements, but these were in most cases not significant. Moreover, this group did not show generalization to untrained words. The results seem to confirm that the core problem in DD is inaccurate mappings between phonological and orthographic spelling units and that phonological–orthographic mapping in written word encoding can be modeled for children with DD to facilitate implicit learning.

Department of Developmental Psychology and Socialization, University of Padova, Padova, Italy (Dr Arfé), CRRDA, Centro Regionale di Riferimento per i Disturbi dell'Apprendimento, ULSS 20, Verona, Italy (Mss Cona and Merella).

Corresponding Author: Barbara Arfé, PhD, Department of Developmental Psychology and Socialization, University of Padova, Via Venezia 8, 35130 Padova, Italy (

The authors thank Silvia D'Ambrosio for her assistance in data collection and all children and families who took part in this study.

The author has indicated that she has no financial and no nonfinancial relationships to disclose.

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