Dyslexic Children and Stressed Syllables

Spanish researchers further connect dyslexia with syllable stress awareness. Study suggests instruction for students with dyslexia should include stress awareness strengthening.

It is well recognized that phonological awareness is a weak point for dyslexics, and there has been much research done in segmental phonology to establish instructional practices in order to strengthen phonological awareness in dyslexic students. In contrast, supersegmental phonology, the topic of syllable stress in words and sentences, has been investigated much less and hasn’t been treated as seriously as phonological awareness. A recent study done led by Gracia Jiménez-Fernández at the University of Granada, Spain looked deeper into supersegmental phonology, and further connected dyslexia with impaired stress awareness.

"Stress awareness is affected by dyslexia
and should be included
in the instruction of
dyslexic students."

Participants in this study consisted of 62 Spanish-speaking elementary students, 31 of which were dyslexic. These students were administered two sets of stress awareness tests and were told to mark the stress of the word on a keyboard in front of them. The first set of words spoken aloud to the participants were all three syllable words, with stresses on either the first, second, or final syllable of the word. The second set was made up of pseudowords, nonsensical words that don’t exist in the Spanish language but follow the grammatical and stress rules of the language. Because both sets of these words were administered orally, the participant’s reading abilities were not a factor in their success.

The results of this study show that the dyslexic participants scored worse on pseudoword test than the word test. Both participant groups scored equally well on the word test. The non-dyslexic students scores’ were almost equal on each test. The gap of success between the two participant groups reveals different levels of strength in regards to stress awareness. Normal language learning participants were able to use the lexical stress rules imbedded in their vocabulary of real words in order to determine the stressed syllables of the pseudowords. The dyslexic participants were unable to determine the stressed syllables of pseudowords even though they knew the correct stressed syllables of words presented in the first test.

This study, published in April 2015, enforces what has already been concluded in similar English-speaking studies conducted around stress awareness—that stress awareness is affected by dyslexia and should be included in the instruction of dyslexic students. Deficits in stress awareness are just as present in dyslexics as phonological awareness. The study’s researchers believe that, because of this apparent deficit found in dyslexics, instruction for students with dyslexia should include stress awareness strengthening. They suggest oral instruction exercises in order to strengthen tone differentiation, word stress, and intonation. This skill will be important as students decode challenging words when they read, particularly when they have never heard the word spoken.

Read more about the study at ScienceDaily, or view the full publication.