Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Shapes of Words

Word Mechanics
Part Three
What can dyslexia and dyspraxia teach us about the shapes of words. How do we read and how does this affect our puzzling.

Today we're looking at the physical forms of letters and words and we'll be tackling a puzzle that tests your word recognition skills.

Stop, don't read any further, find a timer and time yourself reading the first part of this post. Don't rush it, make sure you understand what is being said. Ready? OK, Go!

It's a funny old world when you have a learning disability; particularly when you show symptoms of dyspraxia by regularly falling over your own feet while standing still. Dyspraxia is a learning disability which affects the processing of shape and space. As well as having some quite entertaining symptoms around shape and space; I'm also on the borderline of dyslexia having some of the benefits and some of the symptoms. You may wonder why this is relevant, but being a bit of a learning obsessive, I wanted to know about dyslexia and along they way, learned a lot about the shape of words.

The thing is, when we read, we don't look at each letter of a word to derive its meaning, we look at the shape of the word, sometime the shape of a whole phrase.

Stop your timer now and make a note of the time, then, read all that again against the clock one more.

You should have improved your time by a good third. Once we are familiar with a text we read it much more fluently. Of course you are now thinking that the reduction in time is because you knew the content of the text and therefore didn't have to comprehend it the second time around, and part of it is, but that doesn't account for the whole of the increase in reading speed.

Time yourself again on this paragraph, again make sure you understand every word.

Later in this series we'll be looking at the entertaining 'shape and space' puzzles and how to avoid regularly falling over them. We'll look at puzzles on the borderline of the areas we've looked at and doing a bit of learning around how dyspraxia symptoms can become relevant in understanding and processing shape and space puzzles.

Stop the timer, get ready for the next one, I'm sure you understand what I'm up to here! Ready? Go!

On a future blog post we'll examine the exciting 'visual reasoning' problems and how to avoid the pitfalls that surround them. We'll look at chalenges which straddle several areas and look at how motor learning disorder can teach us unexpected things about how we process spatial awareness puzzles.

Stop the timer.

Now, if my pseudoscientific theory (and someone else's genuine intellectual theory) is correct, the second paragraph should have taken longer to read despite being shorter and simpler. This is entirely due to having read many of the words and phrases in the first paragraph earlier in the post, twice. Your read it faster because you understood the shapes of the phrases and understood the meaning before the individual letters even come into it.

Now, I haven't been going on about dyslexia and dyspraxia for no reason. I needed to familiarise you with the word dyspraxia for the second test, but dyslexia really has taught me some interesting things.

One of the hardest things for me to read is block capitals, or course, they're hard for everyone to read but thankfully they're relatively uncommon. When they occur in titles or for emphasis I really notice their presence, because they take away the ascenders and descenders in text, which help me read.

That got me thinking, surely words with lots of ascenders and descenders, or very few should be really hard to read. Here's a pair of words to read, obviously timing over one word is difficult, so to make the effect more pronounced - they're really long words.


Your brain will have broken both of those words into chunks to try and find a pronunciation and definition. If you're using either of these words in general conversation you do not need my help. You may need help, yes, just not my help.

The difference between them is that for the first word your brain recognised two shapes, they're four paragraphs above, and linked them together. The second word however required some study of the letters, in order to understand the constituant parts. Indeed if you're dyslexic like me you might have to copy and paste the word and physically break it down.

The lesson of the week then is this, read lots and understand the shapes of words. The more shapes we know the easier word recognition puzzles will be. Only then will the world be your mollusc of choice.

Use your new skills to find the hidden country in each of the following sentences.

Which Countries Are In Dialogue?

Ivor and Olga are Soviet names.
She took our dog to an animal tailor!
Try giving him a little love.
We had a lovely lunch in a little bistro.

Thanks for reading and until next time, keep puzzling.

photo credit: purplemattfish via photopin cc

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