Phonetic coding in learning disabled college students

Date of Completion

January 1988


Education, Special|Education, Reading|Education, Higher




The present study examined relationships between reading disabilities and foreign-language learning difficulties. Case reports of college students with reading disabilities have indicated that phonological dysfunctions may underlie both reading and foreign language difficulties (Campbell & Butterworth, 1986; Rudel, 1981). Considering the growing interest in providing quality post-secondary education to learning disabled students, it seemed important to begin identifying what kinds of learning disabilities might handicap students' chances of success in foreign language courses.^ One form of learning disability proposed as a source of foreign-language learning difficulties is a phonological dysfunction (Ganschow & Sparks, 1987). This condition involves reduced ability to recognize, analyze and recode constellations of consonants and vowels. As a measure of at least some facets of this ability, a Test of Phonetic Coding was developed involving repetition of spoken polysyllabic pseudowords. This measure, along with measures of word reading, auditory short-term memory and verbal intelligence, was administered to samples of learning disabled (LD) and non-learning disabled (NonLD) university students.^ The NonLD student were recruited from beginning French or Spanish classes; thus, final language grades were available as a NonLD dependent variable. Oral expressive fluency in either French or Spanish also served as a measure of foreign language achievement.^ Multiple regression analyses of word reading revealed that performance on the Test of Phonetic Coding accounted for significant proportions of the reading variance in both the LD and NonLD samples. The implications of these findings are discussed.^ Multiple regression analyses of NonLD language grades revealed that (1) variance in final grade in Elementary French was best explained by number of years of prior foreign language study (PFL), and (2) variance in final grade in Elementary Spanish was best explained by a combination of the same subject variable (PFL), an auditory memory variable (backwards digit span) and word reading ability.^ Oral expressive fluency in Elementary French, as was the case for final grade, was also best explained by years of prior foreign language study. In contrast, oral expressive fluency in Elementary Spanish was equally well explained by either performance on the Test of Phonetic Coding or years of prior foreign language study.^ Finally, the NonLD foreign language findings were used to estimate the chances of success in both French and Spanish for selected LD subjects. Educational implications of these estimations are discussed. ^