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ot: brain parsing of language

this is doing the 'rounds' at work - provides an interesting example of how the brain parses text ...

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig!

anyone have links to further info about this sort of thing ?

blargle
Friday, September 12, 2003

Google on "whole language phonics teaching" and you will get years of acrimonious debate.

What the article describes is "whole language" which was the hot new thing in the 80's - inflicted on a generation of kids. The idea was that since the brain worked that way, let's teach kids language that way.

The *problem* is that that's how we read _once we know how to read_ - it's like multiplication - when you do 8*7=56, you're regurgitating a memorized result. The problem is that when you look at 324*34243, you have to figure it out, and that's why we teach how multiplication works before teaching times tables.

Well, the whole language advocates discovered the same thing - teach a kid to read via whole language and you've given them a fixed, defined vocabulary that cannot expand, because when faced with a new word they're simply lost.

And so we're back to phonics.

Philo

Philo
Friday, September 12, 2003

... describes is "whole language" which was the hot new thing in the 80's...


and, as usual, it takes quite a few years for it to move from California allll the way over to the east coast of Canada. Back in 2000 I went back to the elementary school I attended growing up (my dad's the vp) and took a day to help some of the Grade 1 and 2 children who were having trouble reading. Having grown up myself on phonics, I was _floored_ when they would read a sentence and read completely different words than what was written .. and keep going without recognizing what had happened. For instance, they'd replace 'bus' with 'bat'.

The schools at home started with the 'whole language' nonsense about six-seven years ago and I think they're finally starting to move away from it. Everything went downhill .. sixth-grade students couldn't even spell basic words because "it's not important about spelling .. just that they express themselves"

</rant>

p.s. phonics rule :)

jedidjab79
Friday, September 12, 2003

> phonics rule :)

I bet they rule even more in languages like Spanish and German where spelling isn't completely whacked.

English and French have some major legacy problems.

Portabella
Friday, September 12, 2003

It's not just a legacy problem for English - the English language keeps adopting words from other languages with their original spelling (minus Umlauts and other 'funny' symbols).

The French combat this, of course, by having an official body to decide what actually is a French word and what isn't...

RocketJeff
Friday, September 12, 2003

When did phonetics become phonics?

Devil's Advocate
Friday, September 12, 2003

jedi: this only tells me that you have limited experience tutoring 1st and 2nd grade children with reading problems, not that phonics or whole-language is a better approach.

Both are necessary.  It's negligent to teach reading without ever mentioning that letters tend to have certain sounds.  But English is not a perfectly phonetic language; and frequently, children will come across words that they've never heard before; this is why they need to also learn how to pick up context clues from the sentence.  The danger with teaching phonics exclusively is that a child may be able to memorize all 100+ rules of pronouncing English and still be unable to apply them; or perhaps they are able to sound out every word in the sentence, but they still are unable to understand what it MEANS.

Alyosha`
Friday, September 12, 2003

I'm amazed at how/why(?) some employed in education keep pushing to teach "whole language".  Simply amazing at how this shows up on NPR shows both nationally and locally.  The argument seems to follow the road of "some students learn differently than others and require whole language" -- or something like that.

I would say that public education is an exercise in mass production.  If you require boutique/niche education experiences, you're going to have to pay boutique prices, and that is simply out of the question.  Hire a tutor.

shamma-llamma-dingdong
Friday, September 12, 2003

Alyosha` : agreed .. perhaps I phrased my feelings poorly. I agree that you need to be able to pick up words from context as well as sounding them out to be able to pronounce them. I guess my point was that when we were in school, there was a decent amount of emphasis on spelling as well as learning how to read, and certainly by the sixth grade student were able to communicate at a "normal ?" sixth-grade level.

However, over the past years as the emphasis has shifted completely to 'whole language' teaching from very early on (and I'm just talking about where I grew up), there has been a marked dropped in children's ability to read and write at their respective grade level in elementary school. I've talked to junior high teachers who have been having more and more problems with their 7th grade students because they don't possess enough basic skills with the English language.

jedidjab79
Friday, September 12, 2003

"I bet they rule even more in languages like Spanish and German where spelling isn't completely whacked."

And they rule even less in languages like Chinese.  (Gee, how does anyone learn Chinese without phonics?)

Actually, similar characters in Chinese tend to have similar pronounciations, but Chinese is taught one character at a time until the student learns the similarities between characters enough to guess the sound of an unknown character.

(although, the literacy rate in China is low by Western standards; this may be explained by the complicated nature of the written language, or other factors, such as a great many of Chinese are still poor and uneducated agricultural workers).

Alyosha`
Friday, September 12, 2003

Blargle,
AFAIK it's not only the position of letters. Words are memorized as shapes not as conglomerates of letters. So for many words in certain languages, e.g. in English, where you have relatively few individual letters it won't matter if you swap letters because the overall shape is preserved. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this called redundancy in signal theory?

In German that won't work as well, but here it helps that most nouns are written with the first letter in uppercase. "Kraftwerk" -> "Kartferwk" may still be recognized. Having it all uppercase "KARTFERWK" makes it harder, while "kartferwk" is as hard. I guess that's the reason why many advertisements in Germany stick to all-lowercase when they want to look "different".

Johnny Bravo
Friday, September 12, 2003

Johnny - good point. I have expended a LOT of effort on clients who demand all uppercase in their UI and data, pointing out that it is easier to read mixed case (easier to read-> reading faster -> increased productivity)

I rarely win that one. :)

Philo

Philo
Friday, September 12, 2003

WOW!

blargle, I'm impressed. Was able to read that perfectly normally whereas normally I have to really slow down and sound out stuff that is written in some weird dialect.

So there would appear to be something to this first/last letter thing, plus the word length needs to be right, plus the inner letters need to have the right ones and not be random.

Kind of like dyslexia in action on the inner letters but not the outer.

cool.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, September 12, 2003

>>>
When did phonetics become phonics?
<<<
When we got "hooked on it"> :)

sgf
Friday, September 12, 2003

"although, the literacy rate in China is low by Western standards"

In Japan, a high school student must learn over 1800 characters to be considered literate.  But the literacy rate is higher than the U.S. and many other "Western" countries.

Not as many characters as Chinese, but still shows a writing system with many characters does not necessarily imply a lower literacy rate.

Jim Rankin
Friday, September 12, 2003

Sanskrit is the language where you can put the words in any order in the sentence and it doesn't matter.

artist
Friday, September 12, 2003

--In Japan, a high school student must learn over 1800 characters to be considered literate.  But the literacy rate is higher than the U.S. and many other "Western" countries--

Actually, in japan, a high school student must learn 800 (not 1800) characters to be considered literate. There is a serious problem in japan in that a lot of high school graduates don't know enough kanji to read the daily newspaper.

rz
Friday, September 12, 2003

artist: this is true of Latin, too; the function of a word is determined by its case ending, not its position in the sentence.  However, in any language, descriptors (adjectives and adverbs) still have to be in proximity to the things they describe in order to eliminate ambiguity.

Alyosha`
Friday, September 12, 2003

"There is a serious problem in japan in that a lot of high school graduates don't know enough kanji to read the daily newspaper."

Actually you can see this for yourself if you watch the Japanese TV show "The Iron Chef". Some of the chefs write out their menu and the commentators usually have to get a second opinion about what a few of the words on the menu are.

RocketJeff
Friday, September 12, 2003

Alyosha, by the time I learned and read Latin, adjectives and adverbs where nowhere near their corresponding objects. Actually, it was pretty much fun to reconstruct and reassign those connections. The reason I see for such constructions is that Roman philosophers were rather considering a good rhyme and onomatopoetical asthetics than an easy to guess meaning of their works.

Johnny Bravo
Friday, September 12, 2003

Reading is not a simple pattern recognition process - it also involves a semantic change which replaces the recognized symbol (in this case the word) with the meaning for the symbol.

And even recognizing words is not that simple since we have to recognize the letters then figure out they make up a word: weh avemoret ro ublere adi ngatex twi thm is placedwhi tesp aces the ntheexa mplea bove.

Then IMO we cannot say the brain is actually parsing the language - it's a process far more complex than that.

Dino
Friday, September 12, 2003

See tip #13

http://www.adobe.com/products/adobemag/archive/pdfs/9507lsrw.pdf

m
Saturday, September 13, 2003

I wnedor how mnay of us are gonig to be ipensird by tihs thread to wrtie our own wrod snlrbacimg stawrfoe?

SomeBody
Saturday, September 13, 2003

First, I agree with Dennis -- I'm normally a slow reader, but I think I read the originally posted paragraph more quickly than had it been correctly spelled! Pretty awesome.

And, according to Merriam-Webster, "phonics" and "phonetics" are two distinct words, and "phonics" is indeed the appropriate word in the context of this conversation:

phonetics (orig. 1836): the system of speech sounds of a language or group of languages

phonics (orig 1684): a method of teaching beginners to read and pronounce words by learning the phonetic value of letters, letter groups, and especially syllables

Zahid
Saturday, September 13, 2003

SomeBody, I had problems parsing 'ipensird' and 'stawrfoe', and I still can't work out what 'snlrbacimg' is supposed to be. 's.......ing', I assume. It looks like my own parsing circuitry needs the letters to be in approximately the right place.

A.T.
Sunday, September 14, 2003

It's interesting that so far, the people who say they are usually slow readers have claimed to have no trouble reading that first scrambled paragraph. I am usually a very fast reader, and found that paragraph, although not difficult, to be readable at probably no more than 60% of my usual reading spead.

This does seem to imply a difference in the way that fast and slow readers scan text.

Andrew Cherry
Sunday, September 14, 2003

The translation of what I said is:
"I wonder how many of us are going to be inspired by this thread to write our own word scrambling software?"

I agree that some of the words in mine were a pain to understand.  Playing around with scrambling various things leads me to believe that the original example is heavily contrived -- lots of smaller words, double letters often appear together (such as 'tt' in 'ltteer' and 'mttaer'), and two correct characters are often on the end rather than just one ('rscheearch', 'Elingsh', 'iprmoetnt', 'tihng').  The statement that only the first and last letter are important is incorrect.  I suspect that this didn't come from any 'Elingsh' university but is yet another internet hoax (I'm guessing they know how to spell 'research' at English universities!).

SomeBody
Sunday, September 14, 2003

I suspect you are right about it being a contrived example,

An extreme example is spelling 'software' as 'saaaaae' and Id defy anyone to get some meaning from that :)

OTOH That doesn't detract from the fact we were all able to read the mess in the very first sentence, so certainly how a word is spelt is far less important than we might have assumed.

Looking at the original example, in most cases the relevant letters are present, its just their order that has been scrambled.

FullNameRequired
Sunday, September 14, 2003

Huh?  I think that was the rule... : )

software as saaaaae obviously doesn't work because there are tons of words that begin with s and end with e.  They were indeed all strict permutations.

Andy
Monday, September 15, 2003

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