Tag Archives: literacy skills

The Mix of Symbols and Words – Where, When and How?

YouTube Video Published on Jul 24, 2015  (1hour 25mins lecture)

Janice Light ( Penn State University) describe strategies for maximizing the literacy skills of individuals who require AAC.  This webcast was produced as part of the work of the AAC-RERC under grant #H133E080011 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

In recent years there has been increased interest in teaching literacy skills to those who use AAC and one particular research project on Literacy Instruction led by Janice Light and David McNaughton at Penn State University in the USA has resulted in a very useful resource.  Not everyone agrees about how this task should be achieved and there remains the dilemma around the amount and type of symbols that should be used to support the learning of words with  letter combinations especially where phonics is involved and bilingualism.

Here Jane Farrall highlights other issues in her article “Symbol Supported Text: Does it really help?” and cites Erickson, Hatch & Clendon (2010) who also say:

For multiple reasons, pairing picture symbols with words may limit access to learning to read. Pictures actually may increase confusion, especially when they represent abstract concepts, have multiple meanings, or serve more than one grammatical function (Hatch, 2009). This is particularly true when words do not have obvious picture referents, as is the case with verbs such as do and is. Because they do not have picture referents, they must be represented by abstract, arbitrary symbols […]. While the orthographic (print) representation of these words is also abstract, printed words appear much more frequently and are understood more broadly than are abstract picture symbols. As a result, students learning to read the words rather than recognize the abstract picture symbols have more opportunities to encounter the words and interact with others who understand them.

We have already discussed the issues about learning the sounds that make up the various parts of words along in a previous blog and the Tawasol website offers text to speech to support the syllables and diacritics that aid the learning of phonemes.  But there is a problem when learning individual letters as they change their sound when said in isolation.  The text to speech does not always make a good job of the sounds required so it may be that we will need to use recordings for this element.

in the meantime there is also the issue of how much symbol support is provided when learning groups of words or small linking words such as conjunctions, prepositions etc. Some speakers such as Marion Stanton illustrate the problem very vividly in a talk about “Supporting students who use AAC to access the curriculum”. when working with an older student and others such as Professor Janice Murray have also shown in their slides about Language, Literacy and AAC the problems when words may not have any representative symbols or have very different meanings in certain situations and how a simple word symbol matching system will not work.

sample f text and symbols

Sample of text and symbols taken from the Dundee StandUp project consent form

The symbol dictionary team have been debating how to make supportive information and booklets available using the Tawasol symbols knowing that this is an important subject and one needs to start when on the journey to reading and writing as soon as possible as suggested by Carole Zangari in her ‘Lessons for Beginning AAC users‘ .

The issues that have been discussed have begun with such simple concerns as

  • Should text be above or below the symbols?  See Cricksoft’s practical point  and looking at all the handouts it seems to depend on personal choice?
  • Should the accurately written sentence appear below or above the symbols or each symbol match a word?
  • Should some words remain as words or always be translated into representative symbols even if the result is not always an easy one to interpret?
El Greco page using symbols

With grateful thanks to ARASAAC for all their support in this project

Some of the abstract linking words or conjunctions and prepositions simply do not work in a bilingual dictionary situation. This may be due to the position and direction of an arrow due to the right to left and left to right directions of the text or it may be the fact that a simple mathematical symbol may be easier to understand when compared to an unknown image. There is also the thought that it might be easier to learn a word such as ‘of’ instead of showing it as and ‘from’ and research has shown that there may be times when not working with the actual words slows literacy skill progress. 

On the other hand even though you may not speak Spanish this page illustrates how a booklet with supporting symbols can explain a piece of history where learning to read is not the main aim.  Here the goal is to communicate a story for knowledge building and enabling all those involved in the visit to the museum to have an inclusive experience.   This image has been taken from a booklet about El Greco developed by Dirección General de Organización, Calidad Educativa y Formación Profesional de la Consejería de Educación, Cultura y Deportes de Castilla-La Mancha.with pictograms from Sergio Palao. Procedencia ARASAAC (http://arasaac.org). Licencia Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

It is felt that when developing AAC materials they will nearly always need to bespoke, but when they are being offered for general use there needs to be a clear understanding as to their intended use.   As can be seen in this short article the needs of the AAC user may vary enormously depending on their abilities, skills and situation as well as the type of teaching task and resources available.  communication and knowledge building may well be aided by the combination of symbols and text.  However, literacy skill building may require other types of strategies and different learning materials.


Erickson, K.A., Hatch, P. & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(5), 1 – 16.  (Accessed 11 Dec 2015) https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-240102195.html

Dissemination, revision of the Symbol Manager System and the beginning of Dictionary building.

virginia creeper

Virginia Creeper in October

Summer has faded in the UK with autumn bringing in rain showers, wind and turning leaves. We have begun the task of telling people about the Arabic Symbol Dictionary at conferences with paper and poster presentations. At ICCHP 2014 the Project Possibility University of Southampton students presented Symbol Dragoman using the symbol and word lists already gathered for the symbol dictionary along with the Tatoeba lists.  This was followed up by Communication Matters 2014 where we had a poster and will be writing a paper. We have also just heard that we have been accepted for poster and paper presentations at TechShare Middle East, the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference (ARC’14) and RAATE 2014.


ict qatar

ICT Qatar

In Qatar, Nadine joined the research team with Mada as a speech and language therapist whilst also supporting AAC users at the Shafallah Center and Dana has come on board as a graphic designer just when we need to be thinking about logos, leaflets, updated posters and beginning the task of adapting or adding to the symbol set we wish to use. The ARASAAC team have kindly agreed to collaborate with us on the task of using their creative commons licensed symbols where appropriate for the dictionary. This was discussed as a result of the voting that took place in June and July.

During August and September Nadine and Tullah have been researching the issues around gathering core vocabularies in Arabic that are suitable for AAC users as well as considering the concerns around the enhancement of literacy skills which are challenged by the diglossic nature of Arabic.  Levin et al (2008) mention the fact that “research has shown that the linguistic distance between Standard Arabic, the language of print, and spoken Arabic vernacular, the oral language of children challenges the acquisition of reading in Arabic (Abu-Rabia, 2000; Saiegh-Haddad, 2003a, 2004, 2005, 2007a).”   It appears to affect all aspects including “lexicon, syntax, morphology and phonology”.  It is felt that by offering sound patterns of lexical entries (with the use of recorded and synthesised text to speech) this could support carers and teachers of speech impaired individuals when working on literacy skill acquisition.

modules of language

Reproduced under fair use Copyright © 1999 Stephen Pinker (Mark McConville and Henry S. Thompson, 2 February 2012)

So discussions have continued around phonemic segmentation and how this will be represented in the dictionary for both Arabic and English with the result of changes being made to the symbol manager system. It appears that in Arabic the phonemic segmentation can be generated almost automatically with the help of some clever computer coding as long as the diacritics are in place – that is according to Nawar!

Levin et al  have cited several researchers in their comment that the sub-syllabic level (Consonant Vowel level (CV)) in Arabic phonemic segmentation is more easily learnt compared to any other way of encouraging phonemic awareness.   A study with bilingual children by i Saiegh-Haddad & Geva  (2008) showed that being able to sound out parts of words when learning to read was equally important in Arabic as in English.  However, when it comes to deciding which section in a word forms a phonemic segment there is a rather more torturous route for English words which will require manual entry for consonant blends and digraphs etc.  Spaces between the segments will be used when adding words to the Symbol Manager.

symbol manager phonemic segmentationAs a result of the changes made to the system the team at Southampton university have been beta testing the latest version. Early trials have been completed and the system is ready for the addition of new lexical entries with definitions, sentences for context, categorise for browsing and searching, parts of speech and the extra field for phonemic segmentation. New symbols can be added with categories such as monochrome, colour and gender. All items will be distinguished by their language English, Modern Standard Arabic and Qatari. The latest version is faster and accesssible using mouse, keyboard only or touch screen. Nawar has worked hard to make it as flexible as possible and it is now ready for further testing using a simple check list – download MS Word doc Beta Testing Symbol Manager v1 .  We have also used  the SUS evaluation scale (Brooke, 1996).  Taking an iterative approach with the participation of as many interested parties as possible we have setup up logins for the Symbol Manager System and will be reacting to any feedback we receive from those involved with the project.


Brooke, J. (1996). SUS: A “quick and dirty” usability scale. In P. W. Jordan, B. Thomas, B. A.
Weerdmeester, & A. L. McClelland (Eds.), Usability Evaluation in Industry. London: Taylor
and Francis.

Levin, I., Saiegh-Haddad, E., Hende, N., & Ziv, M. (2008). Early literacy in Arabic: An intervention study among Israeli Palestinian kindergartners. Applied Psycholinguistics. Accessed 12th October 2014, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1899796

Saiegh-Haddad, E., & Geva, E. (2008). Morphological awareness, phonological awareness, and reading in English-Arabic bilingual children. Reading and Writing, 21(5), 481–504.  Accessed 12th October 2014  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11145-007-9074-x

English and Arabic Phonic Representations to aid Literacy Skills in AAC users

Over the past few weeks we have been trying to understand the importance of the various ways phonemes are represented to support literacy skills in Arabic and English and how best to show them alongside words or multiwords that are added to the dictionary via the Symbol Management system.   We have also discussed the need for recorded speech where synthesised speech or text to speech fails for both MSA and Qatari Arabic.   Research has shown how important phonemic awareness skills are for AAC users who go on to develop literacy skills and it appears that listening to the sounds and seeing the text highlighted helps reading skills as well as finger pointing (Vandervelden & Siegel 1999).

symbols with phonemic representationOne of the hardest problems in English is how to represent the sounds when the spelling of the words bears little resemblance to the spoken version.  Decisions have to be made as to whether one uses a system similar to that offered by the BBC where sounds are written as a combination of vowels or consonants that represent what is said such as /th a ng k / y oo/ or stay with the original spelling and just divide the word up into segments or syllables with the various blended or individual sounds e.g. th a n k | y ou

BBC phonics kit

BBC Phonics kit available at from the BBC website

Whilst discussing this matter with Professor Annalu Waller, Rolf Black, Andrea Kirton and Simon Judge at the Communication Matters Conference 2014 it was clear that the presentation should follow the way the phonics are being taught in schools by primary school teachers where the AAC users developing literacy skills could work alongside their classmates.  In UK such schemes as Jolly Phonics are being used and Andrea Kirton and Simon Judge are working on a phonic screen that might well be developed further to present the sounds with speech output in a similar way to the Macmillan app developed by Vivid Interactive to provide speech therapists with the phonetic alphabet.     It is possible that with the English section of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary we will need to take this further with clusters and blends being part of the segmentation to aid search and categorisation of words for example the listings provided in ‘Spotlight On Spelling: A Structured Guide To The Assessment And Teaching Of Spelling’ and the work of Cootes and Jamieson 

In Arabic some thought is needed as to how phonemes are represented with the various diacritical marks.  However, it is felt that by offering all the movements (diacritical marks) the text to speech (TTS) voices on offer will be able to provide acceptable pronunciation for most words even if they fail on individual phonemes were there will be the need for human recordings.

Below you will find 16 rows with 28 representations of the Arabic alphabet with possible phonemic variations which can be read using the Arabic version of ATbar. As the phonemes are used in written Arabic their letter shapes will change.  The shape of each letter altering depending on the position in the word and phrase.  Arabic keyboards achieve this automatically!  You are seeing all the letter combinations as if they are in their initial position.  I should point out that corrections to this table may still need to be made by our Arabic speaking experts, but this is just to show the type of discussions taking place at this stage in the research.

ي و ه ن م ل ك ق ف غ ع ظ ط ض ص ش س ز ر ذ د خ ح ج ث ت ب ا
يَ وَ هَ نَ مَ لَ كَ قَ فَ غَ عَ ظَ طَ ضَ صَ شَ سَ زَ رَ ذَ دَ خَ حَ جَ ثَ تَ بَ اَ
يُ وُ هُ نُ مُ لُ كُ قُ فُ غُ عُ ظُ طُ ضُ صُ شُ سُ زُ رُ ذُ دُ خُ حُ جُ ثُ تُ بُ اُ
يِ وِ هِ نِ مِ لِ كِ قِ فِ غِ عِ ظِ طِ ضِ صِ شِ سِ ذِ رِ ذِ دِ خِ حِ جِ ثِ تِ بِ اِ
يّْ وّْ هّْ نّْ مّْ لّْ كّْ قّْ فّْ غّْ عّْ ظّْ طّْ ضّْ صّْ شّْ سّْ زّْ رّْ ذّْ دّْ خّْ حّْ جّْ ثّْ تّْ بّْ اّْ
يَّ وَّ هَّ نَّ مَّ لَّ كَّ قَّ فَّ غَّ عَّ ظَّ طَّ ضَّ صَّ شَّ سَّ زَّ رَّ ذَّ دَّ خَّ حَّ جَّ ثَّ تَّ بَّ اَّ
يُّ وُّ هُّ نُّ مُّ لُّ كُّ قُّ فُّ غُّ عُّ ظُّ طُّ ضُّ صُّ شُّ سُّ زُّ رُّ ذُّ دُّ خُّ حُّ جُّ ثُّ تُّ بُّ اُّ
يِّ وِّ هِّ نِّ مِّ لِّ كِّ قِّ فِّ غِّ عِّ ظِّ طِّ ضِّ صِّ شِّ سِّ زِّ رِّ ذِّ دِّ خِّ حِّ جِّ ثِّ تِّ بِّ اِّ
يَا وَا هَا نَا مَا لَا كَا قَا فَا غَا عَا ظَا طَا ضَا صَا شَا سَا زَا رَا ذَا دَا خَا حَا جَا ثَا تَ بَا آ
يُو وُو هُو نُو مُو لُو كُو قُو فُو غُو عُو ظُو طُو ضُو صُو شُو سُو زُو رُو ذُو دُو خُو حُو جُو ثُو تُو بُو اُو
يِي وِي هِي نِي مِي لِي كِي قِي فِي ضِي عِي ظِي طِي ضِي صِي شِي سِي زِي رِي ذِي دِي خِي حِي جِي ثِي تِي بِي إِي
يَّا وَّا هَّا نَّا مَّا لَّا كَّا قَّا فَّا غَّا عَّا ظَّا طَّا ضَّا صَّا شَّا سَّا زَّا رَّا ذَّا دَّا خَّا حَّا جَّا ثَّا تَّا بَّا آ
يُّو وُّو هُّو نُّو مُّو لُّو كُّو قُّو فُّو غُّو عًّو ظُّو طُّو ضُّو صُّو شُّو سُّو زُّو رُّو ذُّو دُّو خُّو حُّو جُّو ثُّو تُّو بُّو اُّو
يِّي وِّي هِّي نِّي مِّي لِّي كِّي قِّي فِّي غِّي عِّي ظِّي طِّي ضِّي صِّي شِّي سِّي زِّي رِّي ذِّي دِّي خِّي حِّي جِّي ثِّي تِّي بِّي اِّي
يَة وَة هَة نَة مَة لَة كَة قَة فَة غَة عَة ظَة طَة ضَة صَة شَة سَة زَة رَة ذَة دَة خَة حَة جَة ثَة تَة بَة اَة
يَّة وَّة هَّة نَّة مَّة لَّة كَّة قَّة فَّة غَّة عَّة ظَّة طَّة ضَّة صَّة شَّة سَّة زًّة رَّة ذَّة دَّة خَّة حَّة جَّة ثَّة تَّة بَّة اَّة

Tullah has also been carrying out research in this area and has discovered an iPad app called ‘Sawti‘ developed by Gadah Alofisan from King Saud University who has won awards for his work in this area and has presented at ICCHP .  This is one of the first apps to offer Arabic AAC support with symbols and their corresponding words being said by male and female children’s voices.  It offers users the chance to practice symbol / word recognition with free text being read aloud with the synthesised voice.   There are some colloquial Arabic words as well as MSA and the user can choose when to use speech feedback.

sawti ipad app


The only problem we have found is that the voice changes depending on the symbol being read which can be a little distracting and sometimes the way the word is pronounced was questioned by some Arabic speakers.

Both Arabic and English have such a wide range of pronunciation that we are going to have to agree on some guidelines for the way we work with voices / TTS and the way phonemes are presented.


Bayan Alarifi, Arwa Alrubaian, Ghada Alofisan, Nora Alromi, Areej Al-Wabil (2013) Towards an Arabic Language Augmentative and Alternative Communication Application for Autism, In proceedings of HCI International 2013 A. Marcus (Ed.): DUXU/HCII 2013, Part II, LNCS 8013, pp. 333-341. Springer, Heidelberg (2013).

Black R, Waller A, Pullin G, Abel E. Introducing the PhonicStick: Preliminary evaluation
with seven children. Montreal, Canada: ISAAC; 2008.  http://phonicstick.computing.dundee.ac.uk/publications/ 

Andrea Kirton, Simon Judge, P. B. (2014). Using Phonemes to Construct Utterances for Aided Communication. ISAAC 2014. doi:10.13140/2.1.3524.4162  http://openconf.faiddsolutions.com/modules/request.php?module=oc_program&action=summary.php&id=142

Trinh, H. (2011). Using a Computer Intervention to Support Phonological Awareness Development of Adults with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments. The 13th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, Dundee, UK. Accessed 5th September 2014  http://src.acm.org/2012/HaTrinh.pdf

Trinh1, H. (2012). iSCAN: A Phoneme-based Predictive Communication Aid for Nonspeaking Individuals. Proceeding ASSETS ’12 Proceedings of the 14th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility. ccessed 5th September 2014  http://keithv.com/pub/iscan/iSCAN_Final.pdf

Vandervelden, M., & Siegel, L. (1999). Phonological Processing and Literacy in AAC Users and Students with Motor Speech Impairments. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 15(September), 191–211.  Accessed 5th September 2014  http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07434619912331278725 



Phonemic awareness for literacy skills – Possible additional feature for each lexical entry

Whilst we analyse the voting for the symbols and check the results against the core English vocabulary lists provided by Tullah from the various Doha groups of AAC users we have been investigating how we could tag and store the symbols and their matching lexicons in English and Arabic.

Meetings with Professor Annalu Waller in Dundee and Simon Judge in Sheffield confirmed suspicions that if we wanted to ensure that the dictionary not only coped with the communication side of symbol use and also encouraged literacy skills there needed to be links to the way words were made up of phonemes. Research has shown that phonemic awareness can be used as a predictor for reading ability (Gillon, 2004)

Teaching phonics has become a hot topic in UK Primary schools to the extent that even the newspapers have come up with lists of resources to aid teachers and parents.  An example is the Guardian article in 2013 “How to teach … phonics”

But the dilemma is how we make a dictionary of words / multiwords linking to symbols that can also be searched by phonemes in English and Arabic for those who can often only listen to the sounds or may find it hard to say them or recognise their significance.  Clearly this aspect of the dictionary is only for certain groups of symbol users who may have the ability to learn to read and write.

Synthetic phonics

‘geck’ and ‘chom’ from Year 1 Phonics Screening (Five things about phonics By Kathryn Westcott BBC News, Magazine, 2012)

Synthetic phonics‘ is often used with ‘made-up’ words to encourage grapheme / phoneme recognition.  However, as can be seen from the example, even those words introduced at primary school level may have letter combinations that can be pronounced in different ways, for instance in ‘geck’ the letter ‘g’ can be said with a hard sound or a soft sound in front of an ‘e’ (/dz/ or /g/).  Children tend to be taught around


According to teaching documents provided by the Education Department at Oxford Brookes University: “In English, much more than in other languages,

  • many letters or letter-combinations can commonly represent more than one sound – for example ea as in heat and head;
  • most sounds can be spelt in more than one way – for example the vowel sound in heat is also commonly spelt as in he, see, chief and complete;
  • Some very common words contain grapheme-phoneme correspondences that occur in few if any other words – for example one, two, are, said, great, people, laugh.” (TDA, 2011)

Children tend to learn the basic 44 phonemes in English which are represented below.

44 phonemes

The Phoneme Table below lists the 44 phonemes of the English Language, from the National Strategies Standards’ phonics sounds. (DFES 2007)

The good news is that in Arabic every letter combination has a set rule and although there may be many sounds that cannot be replicated in English the grapheme/phoneme representation is stable.  The image below shows where there are overlaps between Arabic and English phonemes.


Research carried out by Amor and Maad (2013) working with Arabic speaking Tunisian children has shown that: (direct quote from their article)

The best performances of Good Readers confirm the idea supported by many researchers (e.g. Byrne et al., 1992; Gombert, 1992) that reading failure may manifest itself through a lack of phonemic awareness. The lowest results of the Preliterate children suggest that phonemic awareness does not develop spontaneously, but only in the specific context of learning to read an alphabetic script at school. This phenomenon was observed in many alphabetically written languages, such as  English, French (Gillon, 2004; Morais et al., 1987), and Hebrew (Bentin et al., 1991; Oren, 2001).

The researchers found there were specific difficulties with phonemic segmentation for Arabic words across the cohort of “110 Tunisian children enrolled in primary education schools and kindergartens”.   All their participants scored less well than expected in comparison to research results carried out in other languages.  This was felt to be due to the diglossia nature of Arabic with colloquial Arabic often being spoken at home whereas Modern Standard Arabic is used in schools.   Nevertheless, the children coped better with consonants in deletion tasks, for example /k/t/b/ that make up many words around reading and writing e,g /kataba/ (he wrote), /kutiba/ (it was written), /kutubun/ (books), etc.

Those learning to read in English tend to find it easier to mark initial and final phonemes as individual sounds with the medial one proving harder to work out.  Amor and Maad (2013)  found that their participants had difficulties across all three positions.  “Divergence between the performances of Arabic-speaking and English-speaking children confirms that the representations about the consonantal segments were not the same. “


It appears that the ability to gain phoneme / grapheme awareness is harder in Arabic than some other languages and that the total number of consonant segments in Arabic are higher than most languages but the number of vowel based segments are lower (Newman, 2002)

One idea when creating the lexical entry in the symbol dictionary is to include the representative phonemes with their diacritics,  their change in shape (depending on the position in the word) and the sound they make using text to speech or recorded speech. 


Abu-Rabia, S. (2001). The role of vowels in reading Semitic scripts: Data from Arabic and Hebrew. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 14, 39-59.

Amaryeh, M. M., Dyson, A.T. (1998). The Acquisition of Arabic Consonants. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 41, 642

Amor P. D. M., & Maad, R. Ben. (2013). The Role of Arabic Orthographic Literacy in the Phonological Awareness of Tunisian Children (April). Retrieved from http://www.ijonte.org/FileUpload/ks63207/File/02.amor.pdf 

Bentin, S., Hammer, R. & Cahan, C. (1991). The effects of ageing and first grade schooling on the development of phonological awareness. Psychological science, 2(4) 271-274.

Byrne, B., Freebody, P. & Gates, A. (1992). Longitudinal data on the relation of word-reading strategies to comprehension, reading time and phonemic awareness. Reading, Research Quarterly, 27, 141-151.

Department of Education and Skills (2007) Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics – Primary National Strategy ( PDF Downloaded July 30th, 2014)

Gombert, J.E. (1992). Metalinguistic development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gillon, G. (2004). Phonological awareness: From research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Kurtz, R. (2010). Phonemic awareness affects speech and literacy. Speech-Language-Development. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-development.com/phonemic-awareness.html

Khomsi, A. (1993). L’epreuve collective d’identification de mots. Nantes : University of Nantes.

Liberman, I., Shankweiler, D., Fisher, F. & Carter, B. (1974). Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 18, 201-212.

MacDonald, G. & Cornwall, A. (1995). The relationship between phonological awareness and reading and spelling achievement eleven years later. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 28(8) 523-527.

Morais, J., Alegria, J., & Content, A. (1987). The relationship between segmental analysis and alphabetic literacy: An interactive view. Cahiers de Psychologie Cognitive, 7, 415-438.

Newman, Daniel L. 2002. The phonetic status of Arabic within the world’s languages.
Antwerp Papers in Linguistics, 100:63–75 http://uahost.uantwerpen.be/apil/apil100/Arabic1.pdf 

Saiegh-Haddad, E. (2005). Correlates of reading fluency in Arabic: Diglossic and orthographic factors. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 18, 559-582. International Journal on New Trends in Education and Their Implications  April 2013 Volume: 4 Issue: 2 Article: 02 ISSN 1309-6249

The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) (2011) Systematic synthetic phonics in initial teaching training: Guidance and support materials. (Word document downloaded July 30th, 2014)

Vandervelden, M., & Siegel, L. (1995). Phonological recoding and phonemic awareness in early literacy: Developmental approach. Reading Research Quarterly, 30 (4). 854-875.

Ziegler, J. & Goswami, U. (2005). Reading acquisition, developmental dyslexia and skilled reading across languages. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 3–29.


Moving forward with some questions…

During this last week we have been discussing the issues around the three main concerns arising – that of the core vocabulary, symbol sets already available and working with participants.  The diagram below is available in text format – Arabic Symbol Dictionary plans Feb to April

diagram of questions for Feb-April

Visits and telemeetings along with journal paper collections have started the process of making choices that will be further explored during three days of meetings between all the partners.

A few random questions have also arisen…

Does anyone have experience in evaluating the difference between the way text to speech works for users when presenting spoken words; which have to be listened to in the order they are said and may be colloquial (diglossic Arabic) and the written words and symbols which although they have an order on the page the reader has the flexibility to scan them in a any order?

Looking at a paper entitled “How do members of different language communities compose sentences with a picture based communication? Nakamura et al (1998) .  Would this be one way to start exploring the differences we know exist between Arabic and English language systems in terms of symbol selection?

Do we need to consider whether it will be necessary to change the graphic design of symbols we choose to suit participant preferences in childhood and adulthood?  This has been suggested by Sorcha Rabbitte and Stanislava Antonijevic-Elliott in their PowerPoint presentation ”  Graphic Design and Graphic Symbols: bridging the gap, exploring preferences (PDF download)

Huer and Nigram have debated the issues of cultural sensitivity of symbols  with certain aspects of Core vocabularies  such as  verbs causing particular issues.  Do we need to debate this in more depth?

Examining Perceptions of Graphic Symbols Across cultures

Do Individuals from Diverse Cultural and Ethnic backgrounds perceive graphic symbols differently Nigram

Response to Nigram

These references are important as  we are not only trying to make a dictionary that is culturally sensitive but also one that will offer practicioners the chance to encourage literacy skills.  So do need to explore different symbol systems such as the Unity system, Minspeak , Semantic Compaction etc.?

Minspeak and Unity

We also need to consider symbol choices where not everyone is speaking Arabic but are living in Qatar.  Evans et al have a presentation on the subject in relation to their work with Somali patients visiting medical centres in UK. Evans 2006 – Using Iconicity to Evaluate Symbol Use

Many researchers are now exploring Natural Language Generation (NLG) and AAC as a tool to use for taking lists of words and symbols to symbol set creation for independent generation of vocabularies/stories etc.  Do we need to explore this one in more depth?   Bliss may be an easier system to manipulate using NLG for both languages but perhaps not so transparent or translucent as some of the more pictorial symbol systems.

Professor Annalu Waller and Rolf Black are  engaged in this research and visits to Dundee are planned.  How was School today

Further links

Developing intercultural awareness – elearning website with useful links defining culture and intercultural awareness

 Cultural Issues in the Practice of Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Mary Blake Huer and Gloria Soto – presentation to ASHA in Miami, 2006

A Clinician’s Guide to Arabic Language and Culture by Martinez et al supervised by Rahul Chakraborty – Texas State University, USA

Cultural Competence from the The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA website)





AAC Dictionary for Functional Communication skills as well as Literacy Skills

I have begun to look at the impact that wishing to extend the symbol dictionary to one that will also enhance literacy skills may have on the project design. The first presentation I came across has provided some guidelines for those supporting English AAC users and is backed by research funded in USA – AAC-RERC is a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center that functions as a collaborative research group dedicated to the development of effective AAC technology.   I wanted to see where text to speech (speech synthesis) could help and see how the need to include not just the alphabet with sound support, but also letter combinations, blending and segmentation that help with reading and spelling might also need to be in place, bearing in mind this is not necessarily the case in Arabic. That will be the next stage of the research.

There is a presentation provided by Professor Janice Light (Penn State University) describing the components of effective literacy interventions for individuals who require AAC called “Maximizing the Literacy Skills of Individuals who Require AAC”

I have taken the main elements and added the image of a set of books to each section that would have an impact on the symbol dictionary.  The text version of the mindmap  can also be downloaded.

There is the importance of being able to link the words learnt in the reading exercise  to  symbols available in the dictionary to enable AAC users to show they have understood or remembered the word. This means that there will need to be a way of adding symbols and words at anytime with guidance for image creation and categorisation.

As mentioned offering phoneme segmentation and ways of showing an understanding of sound blending is important.  Speech output whether this is human or a good quality synthetic computer generated voice should be available to encourage, reinforce and enhance literacy skills.
AAC Dictionary for Functional Communication skills as well as Literacy Skills

The information for this blog came from a “literacy program developed and evaluated by Dr. Janice Light and Dr. David McNaughton through a research grant (#H133E030018) funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) as part of the AAC-RERC.”  I will be adding the academic papers related to this subject to our Useful Articles page but here are some that were included at the end of the AAC-RERC slides.


Light, J. Kelford Smith, A. (1993). The home literacy experiences of preschoolers who use augmentative communication systems and of their nondisabled peers.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 910-25.

Light, J. McNaughton, D. (1993). Literacy and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC): The expectations and priorities of parents and teachers. Topics in Language Disorders, 13(2), 33-46.

Millar, D., Light, J., McNaughton, D. (2004). The effect of direct instruction and Writer’s Workshop on the early writing skills of children who use Augmentative and
Alternative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 164-178.

Fallon, K., Light, J., McNaughton, D., Drager, K. Hammer, C. (2004). The effects of direct instruction on the single-word reading skills of children who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, 47,

Kelford-Smith, A., Thurston, S., Light, J., Parnes, P. O’Keefe, B. (1989). The form and use of written communication produced by nonspeaking physically disabled individuals using microcomputers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 5, 115- 124.

Light, J., Binger, C., Kelford Smith, A. (1994). The story reading interactions of preschoolers who use augmentative and alternative communication and their mothers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10,255-268. 15

There is also a Bibliography: Literacy and AAC, Literacy and Disability provided by Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)