Dr Jo Taylor

Personal profile

I am interested in how people learn to read. For example, how is it that we are able to read the following poem:

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,

That looks like beard, and sounds like bird.

And dead its said like bed not bead,

For goodness sake don't call it deed!  

In this poem, many words have similiar spellings but different pronunciations (dead, bead) or different spellings but similar pronunciations (heard, bird). This is a challenge for children learning to read English, and also for people learning English as a foreign language. I'm interested in how we manage to learn all these specific words, but at the same time we also learn general rules for how letters should be pronounced, allowing us to read nonsense poems like the Jabberwocky: 

Twas brillig and the slithy tove,

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

All mimsy were the borogroves,

And the mome raths outgrabe!

In my experiments, I ask adults to learn to read new words written in unfamiliar alphabets, to simulate what it's like for children learning English for the first time. I look at how different factors affect their learning, for example, whether the words have meanings, how often they see the words, whether each letter only has one sound or can be pronounced differently in different words. 

I also use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at how the brain responds to these new languages, in comparison to how the brain responds to familiar English words. And I can look at how brain activity changes as participants become more familiar with the new languages. 

Here is our lab webpage at RHUL:


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