Investigating orthographic and semantic aspects of word learning in poor comprehenders


Address for correspondence: Jessie Ricketts, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK. E-mail:


This study compared orthographic and semantic aspects of word learning in children who differed in reading comprehension skill. Poor comprehenders and controls matched for age (9–10 years), nonverbal ability and decoding skill were trained to pronounce 20 visually presented nonwords, 10 in a consistent way and 10 in an inconsistent way. They then had an opportunity to infer the meanings of the new words from story context. Orthographic learning was measured in three ways: the number of trials taken to learn to pronounce nonwords correctly, orthographic choice and spelling. Across all measures, consistent items were easier than inconsistent items and poor comprehenders did not differ from control children. Semantic learning was assessed on three occasions, using a nonword–picture matching task. While poor comprehenders showed equivalent semantic learning to controls immediately after exposure to nonword meaning, this knowledge was not well retained over time. Results are discussed in terms of the language and reading skills of poor comprehenders and in relation to current models of reading development.