Why is it easier to spell in some languages than others?

Whether we are writing/reading in English or Spanish, the challenge should be the same, but is it?  Why are we teaching only phonics in a language like English that I am told is only 46% phonetically correct?  How do we learn homophones (those words that sound the same and are spelled differently like ate and eight) and silent letters, in a purely auditory strategy? The answer is that auditory takes us so far but we need a clear visual image of the word and knowledge of its meaning for word recognition and spelling in languages such as English.

There is something called the “Orthographic depth” of a language. Putting it simply, a language with shallow orthographic depth, the spelling-sound correspondence is direct; such examples include Spanish, Finnish and Italian is an exemplar in this.  In contrast, in a language with deep orthographic depth, where the relationship is less direct, the reader must learn the arbitrary or unusual languagespronunciations of irregular words and rules associated with correct spelling. In other words, deep orthographies are writing systems that do not have a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and the letters that represent them. They may be irregular like English, which also has to cope with silent letters, homophones, heteronyms etc.  So the structure of the language has a significant effect and there is one thing that they all have in common……What a word looks like. If we can recognise words and spell them from our mental imagery, it will work in any language.

You should only need phonics for new words you have never seen before. Once you have seen them 2-3 times, the process that good readers have developed naturally is to hold words as a mental image, for rapid access, fluent reading and accurate spelling. People who do well with phonics, will also have automatically developed mental images of words.  Those who have struggled with phonics and have strengths in seeing the big picture,  can be taught how to directly develop mental images for words, in just a few minutes.

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#ADHDAwareness #dyslexiaawareness #learningdifferences




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Are you Dyslexic and can picture words?

p49_dinasaursmallThere are 10,000s of bright, creative and exceptional children and adults diagnosed as Dyslexic, without the skill to visualise words.  Would you be curious that 100% of all the Dyslexics that I and other Empowering Learning coaches have met, and there have been 1000s,  are not visualising words reliably for spelling and/or reading?  This topic is not even identified in an Educational Psychologist’s report of these people, but the truth is that without these skills you can never be a fluent reader or accurate speller in the English language.  From our experience, we estimate that only 50% of the population pick these skills up naturally.

Empowering Learning works from strengths, as these same creative #visualkids are nearly always great at visualising pictures.  It is only a small step to visualising words. #makebydyslexia is doing a brilliant job highlighting the exceptional skills of dyslexics, and we need to take it a step forward to enabling people to use their great visual skills for any sort of thinking and learning, including literacy and numeracy.

Want to know more?  Empowering Learning is dedicated to helping you understand more about how we think and learn visually; so call us on +44-7970-854388 or register for one of our on-line drop-in sessions on Wednesday 4th October 2017 at 9am, or 6pm.  Just click here.

#madebydyslexia   #empoweringlearning #visualkids





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Dyslexia and Word Recognition

7.keep-pictures-still-smallCan you do word recognition? When you see a word you have seen before can you simply recognize it, or do you need to decode it. Dyslexia Awareness Week is here, so its time to think differently about our struggling children and adults. #dyslexiaawarenessweek

It is accepted that for fluent reading you need to be able to recognize words, rather than having to decode them over and over again; this is called rapid automatic naming or word recognition. If you are having to decode many words then you simply lose the sense of what you are trying to read.

So why don’t teach children explicitly how to do this, at the same time as we are teaching phonics? Children will progress more quickly and enjoy the whole experience.  The reason is that few people understand that word recognition is a visual skill, based on having mental images of words, and the UK government guidelines says that the only way to teach reading is through phonics, which is an auditory skill.

Changing our strategy in primary school to being both auditory and visual would reduce childrens’ anxiety, save special needs effort and dramatically reduce parental stress.

If you want to know more about the vital role of mental imagery take a look at Empowering Learning (www.empoweringlearning.co.uk)  #empoweringlearning or signup at www.visualkids.co.uk for more information. #visualkids

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“You Will Fail Her” #youwillfailher

dysplaDYSPLA’s “You Will Fail Her” is an outstanding experience of immersive theatre to enable others to better understand and shed light on the Dyslexic Narrative. You will experience, through the eyes of a creative, imaginative and neuro-divergent young girl what it is like to be labelled by others and herself as thick, stupid and a problem.  You will see and feel how the fury mounts up in her, turning into rage and uncontrollable behaviour. You are taken with her on a journey through her life of mounting frustration as she is forced to be someone she isn’t, losing her sense of herself, her very being and her f fun for life.

I help students like this every day, but even I was awoken to long forgotten emotions conspiring to crush individuals, which in today’s focus on the need for literacy skills is even stronger than when I was a child.

The Arts are uniquely places to start creating change.  For it is the creative, imaginative, neuro-divergent children who are most affected, by being pressurised to think and learn in a way that doesn’t work for these big picture thinkers.

In addition, you will be struck by how little our politicians understand about the vital connections between Dyslexia, other learning differences, mental health and even Dementia.

What you will witness is a child’s strengths being ignored in favour of continually focusing on deficits.  Once a child understands and values their own strengths, they can discover how to learn through those strength, making literacy simple and moving away from the current deficit paradigm.

Society needs all the “out of the box” thinkers to resolve the major challenges in the world today.  “You will fail her” is a major step towards enabling others to understand their challenges.  Changing the paradigm is not just for those who struggle for literacy it is to enable all children to be more than any of them thought possible.

The panel discussion at the end also valuable created insights into real life experiences and the opinions of “experts” in the field.

Thank you DYSPLA and the actors for opening people’s minds with an exceptional performance.  Every child, parent, teacher, politician and special needs expert would benefit from this experience, once they are open to new possibilities. Together we do have the skills not to fail our children.

Olive Hickmott, Forensic Learning Coach




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What are Mental Images

We use mental images every day but seldom know how to make the best use of them. People often ask me what mental images are and I will explain.   For example how do we find things (like our house or our car), how do we recognize11.hold-book-up-when-reading_small people we know (our spouse, parents or children), how do we find the ingredients for a meal, etc  These are all everyday things that we take for granted.

A bit like breathing, if you are reading this you can agree that you are breathing, but only a few people have been taught about the effects on you of how you breathe, for example how to breathe in a way that reduces your anxiety.

In just the same way almost everyone is creating mental images, and having little idea about how they are using them and the effects on their mind, body and spirit.  Some people can create glorious multi-colour pictures like a high definition TV, others get black and white pictures, others get cartoons and some may just know what something looks like but can really “see” it.  All of these are fine and like so many things if you start to pay more attention to them they get clearer.  The group that don’t think they see pictures may have such fast pictures that they can’t keep them still to look at an image, e.g. they just “know” what colour their car but don’t see a still image.  Of course some people have nasty images that can be quite unhelpful or disturbing.  The important thing to know is that you can learn to control your images, good or bad, just as simply as you control your breath and with a little practice get them to be perfect for you.

Empowering Learning specializes in how to maximize the use of mental images in thinking and learning.  Take a look at:

Why is mental imagery ignored in schools

If you or your child have great mental images of pictures and are struggling with spelling, this is very typical with creative children, just click here.





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Jamie is spot on

strengthssmallJamie is spot on (see attached);  people with dyslexia really do look at things differently and are invariably big picture thinkers. There is massive evidence being documented about this now from exceptional scientific brains in adults to astounding children. For instance look at Thomas G West’s book Seeing What Others Cannot See, which is full of examples of adults. These people have fabulous skills for all sorts of things with a great focus on creativity, imagination and visual thinking. Jamie sees problems and solutions differently and for example agrees that he knows what a dish is going to look like in advance of making it.

The Guardian article, Jamie is Right: Dyslexic people do think differently can be found here:

A significant problem is the word Dyslexia, that is derived from the Greek word, dys, meaning poor or inadequate, and the word lexis, meaning words or language. But this gives no space for exceptional advanced skills.  For people who think differently we need a different way of teaching that uses their great visual strengths, rather than purely the auditory aspects of literacy, that don’t favor big picture thinkers and aren’t accurate for English anyway.  There are 4 aspects to literacy: a mental image of what the word looks like, what it should like, what it means and above all to be in an effective calm state to learn.  Teaching children when they are stressed will guarantee they can’t remember what they are being taught. 

Inventing the word Perpectius, to mean genius level ability to see different perspectives simultaneously,  would be more accurate and shift away from locking these brilliant visual brains into literacy problems. 

If you want to learn more about how to take a different perspective on Dyslexia go to www.empoweringlearning.co.uk or sign-up here: http://www.tiahl.org/spelling/

#madebydyslexia #perspectius    #empoweringlearning



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Why is mental imagery ignored in schools

elephanMental imagery is a key part of learning, but nobody mentions it in schools.

Mental images are quite simply the images we hold in our heads.  All these pictures are held in your Occipital Lobe, the part of your brain just above the dent where your skull meets your spine.

When we were born we have few mental images, and neuroscience has told us that the occipital lobe stores more and more pictures as we grown up that can be roughly categorised as faces, objects, locations and no doubt many more topics that are unique to the individual such as sports techniques, gaming strategies and favourite holidays.

Part of successful recall of images is to be able to take a good “picture” of something you want to recall. For instance if you lose a bunch of keys you may not have an image. Next time you put your keys down take a picture in your mind of where you left them, complete with the background.  When next you are on the hunt recall that picture in your mind and you will find your search easier.  Whenever you are looking for something just picturing it will assist you. In addition, taking a picture of for example locking the front door before you leave and where you parked the car will even assist you  in reducing some symptoms of OCD.

“Visual thinking is a tremendous advantage.”

But we don’t even mention mental imagery in schools although every school is committed to multi-sensory teaching and learning and mental imagery is a vital part of visual learning. So we don’t talk about mental images in schools, but it is explicitly mentioned in the National Curriculum – it can’t be right that we don’t teach teachers about the key role mental imagery has in learning!

We would be pleased to tell you how mental imagery can be developed for every aspect of learning including literacy, numeracy, concentration and so much more. Just email olive@empoweringlearning.co.uk

#jumpstartingliteracy #empoweringlearning

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