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From the Editors

About Spelling Across Language Systems and Languages

Section Editor(s): Nelson, Nickola Wolf PhD; Editor-in-Chief; Troia, Gary A. PhD; Associate Editor

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000170
From the Editors

The authors have indicated that they have no financial and no nonfinancial relationships to disclose.

A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the other one

–Baltasar Gracián

This final issue of Topics in Language Disorders for 2018 addresses a critical foundational skill for writing proficiency—spelling. Issue editors Annemie Desoete and Christel Van Vreckem invited authors to address spelling development and skills in alphabetic orthographies that vary considerably in their transparency: (a) German—a moderately transparent orthography that is heavily inflected and preserves morphological information in word spellings; (b) Dutch—a somewhat more transparent orthography with some irregularities in word spellings; and (c) Italian—a highly transparent, or regular, orthography. The issue begins with Kargl and Landerl's (2018) large-scale descriptive study of German spelling skills in typically developing students across Grades 4–7. As expected, these older students performed quite well when spelling regular words that could be encoded by relying just on phonological knowledge, and both phonological spelling skill and morphological awareness performance predicted overall spelling accuracy. Perhaps, most importantly, morphological awareness uniquely contributed to predicting overall spelling accuracy beyond phonological spelling skill, highlighting the importance of morphological knowledge in German with its dense inflectional system and strong preservation of morphemic units in the orthography. Given the notable importance of morphological awareness in German, the authors describe a computer-aided spelling intervention called MORPHEUS that focuses on morpheme-level spelling and present related efficacy studies using the intervention program.

Then, Van Vreckem and Desoete (2018) present data that show the differentiation of spelling skills in Dutch-speaking children in Grades 2–6 with and without dyslexia. Examining spelling performance in children with dyslexia is quite appropriate, given the fact that beginning of year word reading skill is robustly related to spelling achievement (e.g., Foorman et al., 2006), spelling abilities predict later reading success (Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, Graham, & Richards, 2002 ; Treiman, 1998), and, more generally, reading and spelling skills are reciprocally related (e.g., Conrad, 2008 ; Ehri, 2000). Van Vreckem and Desoete employ a unique spelling assessment to highlight phonological, orthographic (e.g., rule-based), morphological, etymological, and combined spelling skills. Their descriptive research portrays children with dyslexia in these grades to be generally 2 years behind their peers without dyslexia. Moreover, the younger children with dyslexia struggled even with basic phonologically derived spelling words, as well as the more demanding skills associated with the other Dutch spelling patterns. In addition, children with dyslexia struggled with spelling both real words and pseudowords, and the authors suggest the use of pseudowords in spelling assessment as a means of helping differentiate children with and without dyslexia.

Finally, Arfé, Cona, and Merella (2018) present an intervention study to address the spelling problems of Italian children with dyslexia in Grades 2–4. Their experimental intervention modeled the implicit synchronized auditory–phonological and visual–orthographic mappings for spelling Italian words. What is perhaps most interesting in the line of work Arfé et al. are pursuing is that children with dyslexia can benefit from instruction that is not explicit in the traditional sense (i.e., context-sensitive spelling rules and phoneme–grapheme correspondences are not explained to students as part of instruction). Of course, the transparent nature of the Italian orthography may render such explicitness as relatively less important than when intervening on behalf of children with dyslexia in more opaque orthographies such as English. Nevertheless, the possibility of helping students implicitly recognize statistical regularities in the associations of sounds with letters through modeling those associations is exciting because English orthography is rather irregular, with hundreds of associations that cannot all be explicitly taught, and thus much spelling knowledge must be acquired through implicit means (e.g., Arciuli, 2018).

We think this issue sheds light on the complexity of spelling skills across languages and language systems, and the particular spelling difficulties experienced by children with dyslexia. There are some key assumptions relayed in this set of articles that readers should consider in their own work with children. First, spelling proficiency relies on diverse knowledge sources and varied aspects of language, and these must be considered when evaluating spelling performance and progress and designing instruction. Second and relatedly, in languages in which morphological information is preserved in word spellings, morphological awareness and knowledge should be incorporated into the teaching milieu. Third, degree of orthographic transparency plays an important role in facilitating or hindering spelling development, but all alphabetic orthographies have some consistent phoneme-to-grapheme mappings that teachers and interventionists should reinforce. Finally, implicit and explicit learning processes are likely involved in spelling acquisition, so spelling instruction and intervention should probably reinforce both of these processes.

—Nickola Wolf Nelson, PhD


—Gary A. Troia, PhD

Associate Editor

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Arciuli J. (2018). Reading as statistical learning. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49, 634–643.
Arfé B., Cona E., Merella A. (2018). Training implicit learning of spelling in italian children with developmental dyslexia. Topics in Language Disorders, 38(4), 299–315.
Berninger V. W., Abbott R. D., Abbott S. P., Graham S., Richards T. (2002). Writing and reading: Connections between language by hand and language by eye. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35(1), 39–56.
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