Modelling reading development through phonological decoding and self-teaching: Implications for dyslexia

Johannes C. Ziegler, Conrad Perry, Marco Zorzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most influential theory of learning to read is based on the idea that children rely on phonological decoding skills to learn novel words. According to the self-teaching hypothesis, each successful decoding encounter with an unfamiliar word provides an opportunity to acquire word-specific orthographic information that is the foundation of skilled word recognition. Therefore, phonological decoding acts as a self-teaching mechanism or 'built-in teacher'. However, all previous connectionist models have learned the task of reading aloud through exposure to a very large corpus of spelling-sound pairs, where an 'external' teacher supplies the pronunciation of all words that should be learnt. Such a supervised training regimen is highly implausible. Here, we implement and test the developmentally plausible phonological decoding self-teaching hypothesis in the context of the connectionist dual process model. In a series of simulations, we provide a proof of concept that this mechanism works. The model was able to acquire word-specific orthographic representations for more than 25 000 words even though it started with only a small number of grapheme-phoneme correspondences. We then show how visual and phoneme deficits that are present at the outset of reading development can cause dyslexia in the course of reading development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20120397
JournalPhilosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological sciences
Issue number1634
Publication statusPublished - Jan 19 2014


  • Computational modelling
  • Developmental dyslexia
  • Phonological decoding
  • Reading development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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