Tag Archives: phonemic awareness

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 



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)