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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Feb 15;2 Suppl 1:S129-38. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2011.11.006. Epub 2011 Nov 29.

Impact of phonological processing skills on written language acquisition in illiterate adults.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Humboldt-Universit√§t zu Berlin, Rudower Chaussee 18, 12489 Berlin, Germany.


Illiteracy remains a world-wide problem not only for children but also for adults. Phonological processing has been defined as a crucial factor for the acquisition of written language, which usually occurs in childhood. However, it is unclear to what extent phonological processing is necessary in order for adults to acquire written language skills. We tested 47 illiterate adults before and after a one-year alphabetization course in several cognitive domains relevant to phonological processing and compared their results to 41 matched controls who did not take part in the alphabetization course. Phonological awareness in the narrower sense (e.g., phoneme association) was a stronger predictor of alphabetization outcome than demographic variables such as years of education. In addition, despite improvement of illiterate individuals in phonological awareness, short-term memory, and visual attention from before to after the alphabetization course, they did not reach the phonological processing level of literate controls. Our results confirm that the alphabetization of adults requires and enhances phonological processes similar to those of children. Nevertheless, specific aspects, such as improvements in short-term memory or visual attention, need to be considered in order to improve and optimize alphabetization programs for adults.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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