General Information


In order to become literate, a child does not only need to master grammar and different linguistic registers, but also learn to spell orthographically correct. In this part of the project, we are concerned with the question of how orthography is acquired in German schools. We want to establish which linguistic units and statistical properties of words influence the writing process of adults and children. For instance, Kandel et al. (2011) have shown that in French, children’s writing is structured by syllables. Later, however, as children become more proficient, bigram frequency (the frequency of co-occurrence of two graphemes) plays a larger role as a planning unit. This shows that writers are sensitive to such statistical properties and that they use them for orientation in their handwriting process. We assume that written word production that is rooted in such implicit orthographic knowledge will lead to fast and correct, i.e. “good” spelling skills.


Our first aim is to assess the hypothesis that the encoding processes seen in the spelling of fluent and correct writers correlate strongly with the statistical surface properties of written language but that this correlation is less apparent in less proficient writers. If it holds, we should see that implicit grammatic and orthographic knowledge impacts differently the spelling process of spellers of different proficiency levels, specifically on the kinds of planning units used in encoding written language. By testing children and adults who have been instructed to read and write through different didactic concepts, we want to compare implicit orthographic knowledge and proficiency between these concepts. Ideally our findings can form the basis for adapting orthography instruction in schools, such that more children are enabled to master orthography than it is the case today.


We will measure children’s implicit graphotactic and orthographic knowledge by assessing their writing speed and accuracy. We will look into velocity, reaction times, stroke duration and pauses of their movements whilst writing words on a graphic tablet. These words have previously been selected for different features. Such features can, for instance, be orthographic consistency or the frequency of bigrams. We will use Ductus (Guinet and Kandel, 2010) and a Wacom writing tablet for performing and analyzing the experiments.


Guinet, E. , & Kandel, S. (2010). Ductus : A software package for the study of handwriting production. Behavior Research Methods, 42, 326-332.

Kandel, S., Peereman, R., Grosjacques, G., & Fayol, M. (2011). For a psycholinguistic model of handwriting production: Testing the syllable-bigram controversy. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37, 1310-1322.