Neurophysiological tracking of speech-structure learning in typical and dyslexic readers

Manli Zhang*, Lars Riecke, Milene Bonte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Statistical learning, or the ability to extract statistical regularities from the sensory environment, plays a critical role in language acquisition and reading development. Here we employed electroencephalography (EEG) with frequency-tagging measures to track the temporal evolution of speech-structure learning in individuals with reading difficulties due to developmental dyslexia and in typical readers. We measured EEG while participants listened to (a) a structured stream of repeated tri-syllabic pseudowords, (b) a random stream of the same isochronous syllables, and (c) a series of tri-syllabic real Dutch words. Participants' behavioral learning outcome (pseudoword recognition) was measured after training. We found that syllable-rate tracking was comparable between the two groups and stable across both the random and structured streams of syllables. More importantly, we observed a gradual emergence of the tracking of tri-syllabic pseudoword structures in both groups. Compared to the typical readers, however, in the dyslexic readers this implicit speech structure learning seemed to build up at a slower pace. A brain-behavioral correlation analysis showed that slower learners (i.e., participants who were slower in establishing the neural tracking of pseudowords) were less skilled in phonological awareness. Moreover, those who showed stronger neural tracking of real words tended to be less fluent in the visual-verbal conversion of linguistic symbols. Taken together, our study provides an online neurophysiological approach to track the progression of implicit learning processes and gives insights into the learning difficulties associated with dyslexia from a dynamic perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107889
Early online date12 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 May 2021

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