How the international phonological alphabet can help students with phonological dyslexia

According to Zeiger’s blog (2013), more homographic languages seem to have a lower number of people with dyslexics. A homographic language has a 1 to 1 correspondence between written symbols and phonetic sound (Trask, 1995). An example of such a language is Japanese (Dyszy-Chudzinska, 2009). English is not such a language and according to George (1972), increasing the homographic nature of the English language could help people with dyslexia. In the English alphabet (Roman alphabet), letters often have a number of different phonetic sounds (Iribarren, 2007). The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a more homographic solution in representing the English language (Heterography and homography, 2013; Trask, 1996). According to Funnell and Davison (1989) people with dyslexia have problems with phonetically rules with both reading word out load and spelling. Teaching people with dyslexia the IPA would increase the homographic nature of written English. This could increase the accuracy of people with dyslexic in reading and spelling.

An interesting case study is the one of Louise. Research by Funnell and Davison (1989) looked at a woman who had been diagnosed with both phonological dyslexia and dyspraxia. They compared using the Roman alphabet  verses the IPA in a number of tasks, which tested spelling, reading and remembering novel stimuli. Funnell and Davison (1989) found when words were shown to her in the format of IPA her ability to read, spell, and remember of novel stimuli were significantly better when Louise used IPA compared to the Roman alphabet. According to Funnell and Davison (1989) a possible reason for the results was, the subject could not use her lexical knowledge. There are two pathways in how language is analysed, according to the dual-route theory: lexical knowledge and sub lexical (Morton & Patterson, 1980). Lexical knowledge is a mental dictionary, which stores your vocabulary (Pritchard et al., 2012). While the non-lexical is a person’s strategy of pronouncing words, using a word’s constituent parts e.g. graphemes, phonemes and letters (Heterography and homography, 2013; Pritchard et al., 2012). Funnell and Davison (1989) stated errors which dyslexics make in pronunciation and spelling occur because of  “lexical capture”. Lexical capture is when dyslexics make a error by guessing the word using a similar word in their lexical knowledge (Pritchard et al., 2012). Funnell and Davison (1989) presumed the reason for such a lexical strategy (Pritchard et al., 2012) in the case of Louise was because at early age she had hearing problems. Following the assumption of Funnell and Davison (1989); any condition, which effects the non-lexical processing of letters, will cause the person to rely more on their lexical knowledge.

Hopefully the strategy of using the IPA for reading and spelling will do two things. Firstly IPA would force dyslexics to use their non-lexical pathway. This is because words in this alphabetic format would not be stored in their lexical knowledge. Thus people with dyslexic would have to use their sub lexical analysis of words, thus practicing it. This would hopefully mean that though constant use; people would be trained to use their sub lexical processes. Secondly, just making the English alphabet more homographic could improve reading, spelling and ability to learn of people with dyslexia.

Many of my blogs have looked at how technology can be used in education to help students learn. When researching this, I came across a number of programs, which in conjunction could help implement the IPA strategy to help people with dyslexia. Firstly there are lessons on YouTube, which teach people the IPA. Secondly there is a tool, which converts text to IPA. Finally, Huckvale (2009) created an overlay for a regular keyboard, which allows you to type in IPA. Using these programs together, people could become fluent in IPA and use it day to day activates.

Overall it seems using IPA instead of the Roman alphabet could significantly help people with dyslexia in learning. As a person with dyslexia, this research has motivated me to try to practice what I am preaching and see if using IPA can make a real difference in my learning.


Badian, N. A. (1992). Nonverbal learning disability, school behavior, and dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 42(1), 159-178.

Balsiger, L. (n.d.). Dyslexia – warning signs & symptoms. In Bend language and learning. Retrieved from

Brown, G. D., & Loosemore, R. P. (1994). A computational approach to dyslexic reading and spelling. Developmental and acquired dyslexia: Neuropsychological and neurolinguistic perspectives, 319-334.

Dyszy-Chudzinska, P. (2009). Developmental Dyslexia vs. Japanese Writing Systems’ Neuronal Processing. Investiagtiones Linguisticae, 18(4), 60-874.

Funnell, E., & Davison, M. (1989). Lexical capture: A developmental disorder of reading and spelling. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 41(3), 471-487.

George, H. V. (1972). Common Errors in Language Learning: Insights from English.

Heterography and homography. (2013, August 28). In Wikipedkia. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from

Huckvale, M. (2009). Phonetic Symbols Advice. In UCL. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences website:

Husni, H., Yusof, Y., & Kamaruddin, S. S. (2013). Evaluation of Automated Phonetic Labeling and Segmentation for Dyslexic Children’s Speech. InProceedings of the World Congress on Engineering (Vol. 2).

Iribarren, C. (2007). Description and detection of acquired dyslexia and dysgraphia in Spanish. Communication disorders in Spanish speakers, 231-242.

Ise, E., & Schulte-Körne, G. (2010). Spelling deficits in dyslexia: evaluation of an orthographic spelling training. Annals of dyslexia, 60(1), 18-39.

Lovio, R., Näätänen, R., & Kujala, T. (2010). Abnormal pattern of cortical speech feature discrimination in 6-year-old children at risk for dyslexia. Brain research, 1335, 53-62.

Morton, J. & Patterson, K. E. (1980). A new attempt at an interpretation, or, an attempt at a new interpretation. In M. Coltheart, K. E. Patterson, & J. C. Marshall (Eds.), Deep dyslexia, (pp. 91-1 18). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Pritchard, S. C., Coltheart, M., Palethorpe, S., & Castles, A. (2012). Nonword reading: Comparing dual-route cascaded and connectionist dual-process models with human data. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 38(5), 1268.

Trask, R. L. (1995). A dictionary of phonetics and phonology. Psychology Press.

Trask, L. (1996). A dictionary of phonetics and phonoogy. London: Routledge

Wydell, T. N., & Butterworth, B. (1999). A case study of an English-Japanese bilingual with monolingual dyslexia. Cognition, 70(3), 273-305.

Zeiger, Z. (2013, November 29). The “did I shut the front door?” hypothesis [Web log post]. Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “How the international phonological alphabet can help students with phonological dyslexia

  1. Pranav Krish says:

    My name is Pranav Krish. I am a junior at Yorktown High School, NY. I came across your blog. I am currently in my school’s Science Research Program. I am working on a research project that helps people with dyslexia read easier by converting the words on an internet web page to IPA. After doing research, I have found that since IPA has a shallower orthography (a clear correspondence between the letters and the sounds in a language), it will be easier to read for people with dyslexia. On the other hand, the English language has a deeper orthography, so there is more than one sound for every letter in the language. For example, the letter “a” has so many different pronunciations. So, if a person with dyslexia looks at the English letter, then they wouldn’t be able to recognize which sound it matches with. This is why I created a Chrome extension that converts the words on a web page in English to IPA so that a person with dyslexia can read easier. Can you please help me to see if this tool is helpful. am looking forward to hearing from you!

    • psuf10 says:

      Hello Pranav Krish, Sorry I’ve taken so long to reply. It is amazing what you have done and at the time of writing the blog I was looking for exactly what you have created. This tool has the potential of being very helpful however the only problem is that it would require training or an assistant during its use. The IPA has many more characters, many which are unfamiliar to most people, than English. However having the tool itself could greatly help people with server dyslexic and with the right training could be helpful for all. I hope your research project is going well or has gone well.

  2. Jill Pratt says:

    I would be curious to know what you find. I came across your page as am a master’s student in Literacy and wonder the same as both of you.

    • psuf10 says:

      Dear Jill,

      Sadly, since writing this blog, I have been preoccupied with work and a more Clinical/Neuro approach to psychology, so I have not explored this area much further. Though, due to being a dyslexic, this topic is still one very close to my heart.

      I never heard back from the young man who commented previously so do not know the outcome of his research or his software. If you are doing anything in this area for your masters I would happily help with the psychological areas if needed.

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