Glossary of Terms

Accommodations:Procedures and materials that allow individuals with dyslexia to complete school or work tasks with greater ease and effectiveness given their specific learning difficulties. Examples include providing a tape recorder, a reader, a scribe or extra time in a written examination.

Allomorph: An alternative manifestation of a morpheme, which varies in spelling and pronunciation according to usage, but not in meaning. E.g. the negative prefix 'in-' has several forms such as incapable, impossible, illegal, irreverent.

Alphabetic Principle: Understanding that spoken words consist of sequential phonemes (sounds) and that graphemes (letters) in written words represent those phonemes.

Assistive Technology: Any device or system that helps to improve the functional capacity of people with disabilities.  Examples include voice recognition and screen reading software.

Attainment Test: A standardised measure of achievement in a particular skill or subject.

Auditory Discrimination in Reading (aka sound discrimination): The ability to hear similarities and differences and process the individual phonemes (sounds) in words. Difficulty can lead to errors in auditory word attack, spelling by sound and in receiving orally given information like directions or dictation.

Auditory Processing: In reading and spelling, it entails receiving, examining, weighing, understanding, ordering and remembering the constituent sounds of phonemes or syllables in words. A basic deficiency may involve a difficulty in retaining accurately in memory the order in which phonemes are perceived, i.e. auditory sequential memory. It may also apply to deficiencies in the speech process.

Blending (aka auditory or sound blending, auditory or sound synthesis):  The process of combining or blending together two or more sounds or phonemes represented by letters to pronounce or spell  words; in blending, each phoneme is represented by a corresponding grapheme

Breve: The curved diacritical mark placed above a vowel to indicate that the vowel sound is short (i.e. has short duration or lax pronunciation), e.g. căn, rĕd, pĭll, dŏt, fŭn.

Broca’s Area: The region of the brain located in the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere that is important for the production of speech.

Cerebellum: A large structure located at the roof of the hindbrain that helps control movement by making connections to the pons, medulla, spinal cord and thalamus. It also may be involved in aspects of motor learning.

Cerebral Cortex: The outermost layer of the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. It is responsible for all forms of conscious experience, including perception, emotion, thought and planning.

Cerebral Hemispheres: The two specialised halves of the brain. The left hemisphere is specialised for speech, writing, language and calculation; the right hemisphere is specialised for spatial abilities, face recognition in vision and some aspects of music perception and production.

Cognition: The process or processes by which an organism gains knowledge or becomes aware of events or objects in its environment and uses that knowledge for comprehension and problem-solving.  

Consonant Blend: Two or more consonants sequenced together within a syllable that flow together and are at the beginning or end of words (aka consonant cluster). For example, bred, jump.

Consonant-Vowel-Consonant Sequence (aka cvc): A pattern of three graphemes (e.g. cat) or phonemes (e.g.  sack)  that represent one of the most common sequences in English.

Content Word: Any word, which has lexical meaning such as a noun or verb.

Continuous Sounds: In speech, these are the consonant sounds that can be pronounced and maintained for several seconds without distortion (i.e. f, l, m, n, r, s, v, w, y [as in yellow] and z). (see Stop Sounds below).

Corpus Callosum: The large bundle of nerve fibres linking the brain’s left and right cerebral hemispheres

Decoding:  The transformation of graphemes (letters) into phonemes (sounds) and blending them together to form words. Decoding does not require comprehension.

Deep Orthography: A writing system, like English, that does not have one-to-one correspondence between its phonemes and graphemes. (Hungarian and Finnish have shallow orthographies.)

Dendrites: A tree-like extension of the neuron cell body. Along with the cell body, it receives information from other neurons.

Diacritical Mark: A mark placed over a grapheme (and used in dictionaries) to indicate a specific pronunciation (e.g. breve, macron, schwa)

Differentiation: The process by which curriculum objectives, teaching methods, resources and learning activities are planned to cater for the needs of all pupils including those with dyslexia. Differentiation is necessary to identify and meet the needs of each individual pupil within the classroom.                                                           

Digraph: {a} consonant digraph – a combination of two adjacent consonants that represent a single speech sound (e.g. gn as in gnat, th as in thumb, sh as in ship, ph as in phone) {b} vowel digraph – a combination of two adjacent vowels that represent a single long vowel sound (e.g. ee as in meet, eu as in euro, oo as in moon)

Diphthong: A vowel speech sound or phoneme made by gliding (through a change of tongue position) one vowel phoneme into another in one syllable as o glided into i in oi as in boil or o glided into u in ou as in crouch. Note that each of the two consecutive vowels contributes to the diphthong’s sound. The true diphthongs are: au, aw, oi, oy, ou and ow.

Direct Instruction: An instructional approach that emphasises the use of carefully sequenced steps that include demonstration, modelling, guided practice and independent application.

Dyslexia:  A continuum of specific learning difficulties manifested by problems in acquiring one or more basic skills (reading, spelling, writing, number), such problems being unexpected in relation to other abilities.  Dyslexic difficulties can be described at the neurological, cognitive and behavioural levels. They are typically characterised by inefficient information processing, including difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, rapid naming and automaticity of basic skills. Difficulties in organisation, sequencing, and motor skills may also be present.  Dyslexia may be associated with early spoken language difficulties. (source: Taskforce Report on Dyslexia, DES, Ireland and Task Group Report on Dyslexia, DE, Northern Ireland)

Encoding: The techniques required to spell word parts and then whole words by segmenting syllables into phonemes and corresponding them to appropriate graphemes.

Forebrain: The largest division of the brain, which includes the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia. The forebrain is credited with the highest intellectual functions.

Function Word: A word, which does not have lexical meaning but primarily serves to express a grammatical relationship (e.g. of, or, and, the).

Grapheme: The smallest, single unit of a written language (aka letter).

Hardware:  The physical components of a computer, including both mechanical and electronic parts (e.g. the central processing unit, monitor, memory)

Hippocampus: A seahorse-shaped structure located within the brain and considered an important part of the limbic system. It functions in learning, memory and emotion.

Inclusion: the process of providing services to students with disabilities in local mainstream schools in age-appropriate general education classes with the necessary support services and supplementary aids for pupil and teacher

Individual Education Plan (IEP): A programme designed to address the individual educational needs of a student who is usually in receipt of supplementary teaching. An I.E.P.should specify long-term and short-term learning targets and provide an indication of how those targets might be achieved.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT): The hardware, software and infrastructure used for the creation, processing and communication of information, as well as applications of that technology such as email and the world wide web.

Internet:  A network consisting of many millions of computers around the world, connected together by telephone lines, cables, and satellites.

Kinaesthetic: Movement of the body involving large or small muscle groups. Example: Writing metre-high letter on the blackboard

Learned Helplessness: This refers to the tendency of some pupils to be passive learners who depend on others for decisions and guidance. In individuals with dyslexia, continued struggle and failure can heighten this lack of self-confidence.

Letter combination: A group of letters which, when combined, make a sound that is different from the expected blend of their individual sounds (e.g. ing, ang, ung, ong, eng, ink, ank, unk, onk, tion, sion, ture)

Lexical: Refers to the words or the vocabulary of language as distinguished from its grammar and construction.

Long-Term Memory: The final phase of memory in which information storage may last from hours to a lifetime.

Macron: The straight line diacritical mark placed above a vowel to indicate that the vowel sound is long, e.g.  cāke, dēep, sīght.

Metacognitive Learning: Instructional approaches emphasising self-awareness of the cognitive processes that facilitate one’s own learning and its application to academic and work assignments.

Morpheme: The smallest, single unit of meaningful language. All words are morphemes. Some words like compound words have more than one morpheme. Bound morphemes are meaningful units which are not actual words, e.g. -s in cats, -ly in quickly.

Multisensory Learning: An instructional approach which uses a combination of several learning channels or modalities, i.e. auditory, visual and tactile-kinaesthetic, in one learning-based activity. Example: Tracing a sandpaper letter while saying the letter name aloud.

Neuron: Nerve cell. It is specialised for the transmission of information and characterised by long fibrous projections called axons and shorter, branch-like projections called dendrites.

Neurotransmitter: A chemical released by neurons at a synapse for the purpose of relaying information to other neurons via receptors.

Non-phonetic words: Words that do not conform to the expected grapheme-phoneme correspondences of English or by the generalisations that usually govern spelling or decoding (aka irregularly spelled words) (e.g. laugh, yacht, Wednesday).

Nonword: A phonetically-regular, pronounceable string of letters with no meaning. (aka nonsense word) (e.g. gud, somp, shup)

Onset and Rime:  All English words are made of one or more syllables. Every syllable can be divided into phonological units ("intra-syllabic units") which are larger than a single phoneme but smaller than a syllable. It is usually possible to divide a syllable into two parts, an opening and an end section. The part of a syllable that contains the vowel sound and the consonant sound(s) that follow(s) it is referred to as the ‘rime’. Every English syllable has a rime. The part of a syllable that contains the consonant sound(s) which precede the vowel sound is referred to as the ‘onset’. Not every English syllable has an onset.












t (/t/)

el (/ĕ/ /l/)




e (/ĕ/)



ph (/f/)

one (/ō/ /n/)



Orthographic Awareness: Involves sensitivity to the structure of the writing system (spelling patterns, orthographic rules, inflectional and derivational morphology, and etymology)

Parietal Lobe: One of the four subdivisions of the brain’s cerebral cortex. The parietal lobe plays a role in sensory processes, attention and language.

Percentile: A value on a scale of 100 showing the percent of the distribution that is equal to or below it. Many test results are now given as percentile scores. Example: A person’s score at the 35th percentile indicates that 34% of his/her peers would receive a lower score and 64% of them would receive a higher score.

Perception: The extraction of information from sensory stimulation.

Phoneme: The single, smallest unit of spoken language. There are approximately 44 phonemes in English.

Phoneme Awareness: The ability to segment oral words into their constituent phonemes. Phoneme awareness is an important prerequisite for reading and spelling.

Phonic Analysis: The identification of words by their sounds; the process of phonic analysis involves the association of speech sounds with letters and the blending of these sounds into syllables and words

Phonic Generalisation: A statement which indicates under which condition(s) a letter or group of letters usually represents a particular sound or sounds (e.g. the so-called silent e rule)

Phonically Regular Word: A word whose pronunciation may be accurately predicted from its spelling

Phonics: An approach to the teaching of reading and spelling that stresses symbol-sound relationships, especially in beginning reading instruction

Phonogram: A graphic symbol such as one in a phonetic alphabet, which can represent a sound, phoneme or word, e.g. ph is a phonogram for the phoneme /f/.

Phonology: The study of speech sounds and their function in language. A phoneme is a minimal linguistic unit in spoken language whose replacement can result in a meaning difference. In English, there are approximately 44 phonemes. Written English uses 26 visual symbols or graphemes, commonly called letters

Phonological Awareness: A language skill that is critically important in learning to read. It is defined as an explicit self-awareness of the phonological structure of the words in one’s own spoken language. It involves the ability to notice, think about and manipulate the individual sounds or phonemes and syllables within words. There is a circular (reciprocal) relationship between reading and phonological awareness, i.e. as one improves, the other improves. Phoneme awareness (see above) is an aspect of phonological awareness.

Schwa: the mid-central (neutral) vowel in unaccented or unstressed syllables (e.g. about, circus, balloon).

Short Term Memory: That aspect of memory that only lasts briefly, has rapid input and output, is limited in capacity and depends directly on stimulation for its form (as memory developed after one has attended to a stimulus array, but before one has mastered all of the details). Short term memory enables a reader to keep visual and auditory information in mind long enough (or until there is enough material) for processing. Example: Analysing a word for blending.

Software: A computer program of any kind.

Sound (Auditory) Blending: A phoneme (sound) combining skill based on the ability to fuse discrete phonemes (sounds) into recognised words.

Spatial Orientation: Awareness of one’s own position and movement in space, primarily from visual and kinaesthetic clues. Directionality depends on Spatial Orientation.

Specific Learning Difficulties: A student’s learning difficulties, such as those arising from dyslexia, are specific to a particular area (or areas) of the curriculum such as reading. Such difficulties are unexpected in relation to the student’s other abilities.

Stimulus: An environmental event capable of being detected by sensory receptors.

Stop sounds: In speech, these are the consonant sounds that are made by stopping the air flow and then suddenly releasing it through the mouth (i.e. b, d, g, k, p, t). Contrast these with continuous sounds (see above).

Synapse: A gap between two neurons that functions as the site of information transfer from one neuron to another.

Syntax: The conventions and grammatical rules for assembling words into meaningful sentences.

Tactile: Having to do with the sense of touch as a learning channel. Example: Finger tracing over a sandpaper letter is a tactile learning experience. (Often the words tactile and kinaesthetic are joined by a hyphen and used as an adjective. Sometimes the word haptic is used instead.)

Temporal Lobe: One of the four major subdivisions of each hemisphere of the brain’s cerebral cortex. The temporal lobe functions in auditory perception, speech and complex visual perceptions.

Transposition: A type of reading or writing error involving a change in the sequence of two or more sounds or letters in a word or words in a sentence. Example: Writing ‘desrcibe’ for ‘describe’ or saying ‘pashgetti’ for ‘spaghetti’.  Some errors appear like anagrams, e.g. ‘breaded’ for ‘bearded’.

Visual Discrimination in reading: The ability to see similarities and differences and process the visually distinctive features of letters, words and phrases. Difficulty can lead to errors of letter or word identification and interfere with reading.

Visual-Motor Co-ordination: The ability to co-ordinate what is visually perceived with finer body movement (eye-hand). Examples: tying laces and handwriting.

Visual Processing: In the reading and writing process, it entails receiving, examining, weighing, understanding, ordering and remembering the constituent letters or syllables of words. A basic deficiency may involve a difficulty in retaining accurately in memory the order in which letters are perceived, i.e. visual sequential memory.

Wernicke’s Area: A region of the brain responsible for the comprehension of language and the production of meaningful speech.

World Wide Web (www): An information search, retrieval and publishing system for the Internet.