Thursday, September 15, 2011

Does the huamn mnid raed wrods as a wlohe?


Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Or rather...

According to a researcher (sic) at Cambridge University, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.


While scientists and researchers in cognitive science point out some fallacies about this idea that the order of letters is not critical to understanding a text, I can't help but think that this revelation may provide us EFL teachers with a 'trick' that we can use at times to introduce language points.

Trouble is, scrambling sentences by hand in a word processor is a pain.  However, thanks to Stephen Sacks, here is a neat site that will 'scramble' any text according to the algorithm that the first and last letters stay the same: http://www.stevesachs.com/jumbler.cgi  -- jsut patse yuor snenetce or pagaprrah hree and at the cilck of a butotn, you'll hvae the 'jluembd' vsieorn. :) 

How to use this with students?
  • When presenting a grammar point, give the example sentences to students in scrambled form to rewrite as a warmer.
  • Scramble the sentences in a CLOZE or gap fill, but leave the words spelled correctly that they need to choose to put in the gaps.  This should, in theory, force them to look more closely at the context before deciding which word to put in the gap.
  • Use one of the reading texts that students have already read, and as a review, scramble the text and highlight words in it (choose lower frequency words based on collocation or lexico-grammar with higher frequency words) that you want students to spell correctly.  Give them a tight time limit to force them to look for clues in the context to help them guess the word quickly. When they scan the emboldened words, ask them to identify the collocate or phrase that helped them.  Here is an example from this bullet point (imagine doing this with a one minute time limit, and not having read the text recently):
Use one of the riadeng txets taht sduttnes hvae aelrady raed, and as a rveeiw, sbmalrce the txet and hilghgiht wdros in it (cohose lwoer funerecqy wrdos bsead on colitoalcon or lxieco-gaammrr wtih hghier feuqcnrey wdors) taht you wnat sudtetns to slepl ccltreroy. Gvie tehm a tihgt tmie liimt to focre tehm to look for celus in the cenotxt to hlep tehm gsues the wrod qilkucy. Wehn tehy sacn the eebnomdeld wdors, ask tehm to iteinfdy the cotolclae or parhse taht hepeld tehm. Hree is an emxlpae form tihs belult ponit

What I like about this site
  • Really simple, easy to use, and free.
  • Super example of an elegant code (if you like programming languages!)
What I'm not sure about
  • The research suggests that there is a lot more going on in our brains when it comes to reading the printed word than we realize.  I'd like to find some more research about this, as I'm sure some students will point to this phenomenon to justify their bad spelling. :)  Student to teacher: "Hacom - I no need ccrtelory selpl buacese you etrhieyvng me uennadrtsd, dgiel mi?"


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