Authors: Inez E. Berends, Ieter Reitsma.

Article: Addressing semantics promotes the development of reading fluency..

Publication: Applied Psycholinguistics (Cambridge University Press). 27(2), 247-265 2006 | DOI: 10.1017/S0142716406060279

[Full Text]


In two experimental training studies we examined the hypothesis that an emphasis on the meaning of a word is more effective than merely focusing on the orthography to increase reading fluency. Reading delayed children from Grade 1 (mean age = 7.3 years) and two groups from Grade 2 (mean age = 8.3 and 7.8 years) repeatedly read words while focusing either on the orthography or on the semantics of the word. Furthermore, the claim that limited exposure duration during training further promotes fluency was examined. The results show that the semantic based exercises yield more effect than orthographic training, especially for Grade 2 students. No beneficial effect is found for limited presentation duration. The results strongly suggest that practice with printed words with a specific focus on the semantic characteristics effectively promotes the attainment of reading fluency.



To summarize, phonological awareness is predictive of some of the variability in reading outcomes, but not all of it. Therefore, it is important to explore additional factors that may be significant, particularly those that may influence fluency in reading. The main focus of the present study is to examine whether a training program that explicitly involves accessing semantics after visual presentation of a word can be more effective for gaining fluency in reading than a training program that solely aims on improving the orthographic knowledge of words. Improving fluency in reading is at stake here. Especially in languages with a fairly regular orthography, such as Dutch or German, the main obstacle for reading disabled children seems to be gaining fluency in reading (Hutzler, Ziegler, Perry, Wimmer, &
Zorzi, 2004; Mayringer & Wimmer, 2000). Some of these dyslexic children do
not seem to benefit at all from phonology-based training programs (Torgesen,
Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994). Even in languages with a deep orthography there
are subgroups of dyslexics (Wolf & Bowers, 1999, 2000) who do not seem to
suffer from phonological deficits but who fail to achieve an efficient reading


The findings evidently are supporting the hypothesis that semantic training is
most effective for improving reading fluency. Exercises that call for associating the printed form of a word with semantic aspects do yield an increase in reading speed without an accuracy tradeoff. These results thus corroborate for example the findings of Sandak et al. (2004).
The present results show that training with semantic exercises could be more
effective as a means to improving reading speed than orthographically focused training. However, our youngest group of participants with just 6 months of formal reading instruction seem not to benefit from semantic oriented practice in a similar way. In this younger group the orthographic and semantic conditions both had a significant effect on the reading time for the target words, but there was no difference between the two conditions.
An explanation for the finding that practicing words in combination with their
meaning seems to be more appropriate to attain fluency in delayed readers probably is that it more closely resembles the integration of component processes that is typical of fluent reading. Fluent reading processes require an efficient integration of written and spoken language.
The present findings, together with the results of computational modeling (Harm & Seidenberg, 2004) and functional neuroimaging experiments (e.g., Sandak et al., 2004), strongly suggest that attending to the semantic characteristics when learning to read increases the quality of lexical representations and facilitates the development of reading fluency.

Tagged as: reading fluency and word meaning


BERENDS, I., & REITSMA, P. (2006). Addressing semantics promotes the development of reading fluency. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27(2), 247-265. doi:10.1017/S0142716406060279

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