Phonetics Account for Only 63% of How We Read

A new study has looked at the different processes involved in reading: phonics (a letter by letter sounding out of words); contextual clues (earlier parts of sentences that help readers anticipate upcoming words); and holistic word recognition, or the physical shape of words.

In the study, the researchers prevented readers using one of these strategies in turn. For example, to prevent the reader using the visual appearance of the word as a clue they mixed up the case: ThIs tExT AlTeRnAtEs iN cAsE. By then analysing reading rates the researchers calculated that phonics accounts for the lion’s share (62%) of the adult reading rate. Visual word recognition accounts for only a small fraction (16%) of reading rate and the words context accounts for 22% of reading rate, on average.

This study shows that phonics is the single most important factor in reading but almost 40% of adults read is based on other factors. It would be interesting to run this test on adult dyslexics how have learnt to read to see if dyslexic readers use really on content or word recognition more than non-dyslexics.

Coverage in Scientific America and the original study: Parts, Wholes, and Context in Reading: A Triple Dissociation