Multi-sensory learning strategies to support spelling development: A case study of Second language learners with auditory processing difficulties

Annalene van Staden, Nicole Purcell & Ansa Tolmie, South Africa, ID LLCE2016-241;            Research confirms the multifaceted nature of spelling development and emphasizes the importance of both cognitive and linguistic skills that affect sound spelling development such as working and long-term memory, phonological processing, rapid automatized naming, orthographic awareness, mental orthographic images, semantic knowledge and morphological awareness. This has clear implications for many second-language spellers (L2) with auditory processing difficulties, because writing systems are graphic representations of spoken language, and literacy development involves learning the association between the printed and oral forms of language (also known as phonological awareness and processing). Furthermore, these phonological learning difficulties are linked to a reduced phonics-based memory and they interfere with the development of well-defined and robust phonological representations, hence resulting in literacy and spelling difficulties. With reference to the present study, the researchers hypothesized that learners with auditory difficulties would possibly benefit from non-phonological visual coding strategies for the mediation of the written words into working memory. The theoretical implication of this is that, in the absence of intact auditory processing skills, the central idea is to recode the spelling words (to be taught) into a multi-modal representation that uses multiple perceptual cues and coding strategies, such as visual and tactile coding. In the present investigation, the researchers sampled second-language spellers (n = 22) with significant auditory processing delays and implemented an intervention programme that utilized visual and tactile coding strategies as part of the multi-sensory intervention therapy programme (for a period of six months). Post-test results were very promising and showed that L2 English-language spellers significantly improved in both cognitive-linguistic (i.e. short-term memory processing, phonological measures and rapid automatized naming), as well as the literacy measures (i.e. reading and spelling) that were administered in this study. Considering the contribution this investigation has made with regard to effectively supporting the spelling development of children with auditory processing delays, the researchers are confident that it will expand and improve existing theoretical accounts of literacy (and spelling) acquisition in the field of psycholinguistics, whilst also facilitating the academic success of the growing L2 learner population in South Africa (and internationally).

Keywords: Language and literacy development; English second language spellers; auditory processing difficulties; short-term memory; phonological processing; rapid automatized naming; visual and tactile coding; multi-sensory learning strategies.