Reading as statistical learning

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Purpose: The purpose of this tutorial is to explain how learning to read can be thought of as learning statistical regularities and to demonstrate why this is relevant for theory, modeling, and practice. This tutorial also shows how triangulation of methods and cross-linguistic research can be used to gain insight. Method: The impossibility of conveying explicitly all of the regularities that children need to acquire in a deep orthography, such as English, can be demonstrated by examining lesser-known probabilistic orthographic cues to lexical stress. Detection of these kinds of cues likely occurs via a type of implicit learning known as statistical learning (SL). The first part of the tutorial focuses on these points. Next, studies exploring how individual differences in the capacity for SL relate to variability in word reading accuracy in the general population are discussed. A brief overview of research linking impaired SL and dyslexia is also provided. The final part of the tutorial focuses on how we might supplement explicit literacy instruction with implicit learning methods and emphasizes the value of testing the efficacy of new techniques in the classroom. The basic and applied research reviewed here includes corpus analyses, behavioral testing, computational modeling, and classroom-based research. Although some of these methods are not commonly used in clinical research, the depth and breadth of this body of work provide a compelling case for why reading can be thought of as SL and how this view can inform practice. Conclusion: Implicit methods that draw on the principles of SL can supplement the much-needed explicit instruction that helps children learn to read. This synergy of methods has the potential to spark innovative practices in literacy instruction and remediation provided by educators and clinicians to support typical learners and those with developmental disabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)634-643
Number of pages10
JournalLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools
Issue number3S
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  • Medical Research -- Usage
  • Medical Research -- Analysis
  • Literacy programs -- Usage
  • Literacy programs -- Analysis


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