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Benefits of Autonomy in a Synesthetic Learner: Awareness and Understanding of Learning Styles Conditioned by Grapheme-Colour Synaesthesia


Academic year: 2022

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Benefits of Autonomy in a Synesthetic Learner:

Awareness and Understanding of Learning Styles Conditioned by Grapheme-Colour Synaesthesia

Koristi avtonomije pri sinestetskem učencu:

zavedanje in razumevanje učnih stilov, pogojenih z grafemsko- barvno sinestezijo

Magistrsko delo

Ljubljana, 2022

Mentor: red. prof. dr. Eva Sicherl Študijski program: Anglistika – E – PED



Grapheme-colour synaesthesia is firmly linked to a written text and thus offers the possibility of being utilized by grapheme-colour synaesthetes as a tool for learning a (foreign) language. This M. A. thesis examines and compares cognitive processes of two grapheme-colour synaesthetes as learners of English as L2. Through the method of a closed interview, it first evaluates the scope and workings of the participants’ synaesthetic perceptions (e.g. whole-word colour, effect of neighbouring letters, focus on morphemes, etc.), and secondly, it examines possible unique learning strategies based on associations between concurrent colours and the mental imagery of words. In other words, it examines how a grapheme-colour synaesthete perceives letters in a word, and how he/she can use the perceived colours as a mnemonic aid, especially in the English language, which is orthographically complex. The findings show that grapheme-colour synaesthesia has great potential to be consistently used as a mnemonic aid. However, identifying synaesthesia should first become a common practice in schools, in order for the synaesthetes to start actively utilizing it. Autonomy in the creation of one‘s own learning strategy, supported by one’s perceived concurrent colours, is of great importance due to the idiosyncratic nature of synaesthetic perceptions.

Keywords: grapheme-colour synaesthesia, associative learning, mnemonic device, English as L2



Grafemsko-barvna sinestezija je tesno povezana s pisanim besedilom, zaradi česar ima potencial kot orodje sinestetov pri učenju (tujega) jezika. V nalogi raziščem in primerjam kognitivne procese dveh grafemsko-barvnih sinestetov, ki se učita angleščino kot tuji jezik. Z metodo zaprtega intervjuja najprej ocenim obseg in delovanje sinestetskih zaznav obeh udeležencev (npr.

barva celotne besede, učinek sosednjih črk, osredotočenost na morfeme, itd.), nato pa še preverim možne edinstvene učne strategije, ki temeljijo na asociacijah med dojetimi barvami in mentalnimi slikami besed. Povedano drugače, v nalogi preverim kako grafemsko-barvni sinestet zaznava črke v besedi in kako lahko zaznane barve uporabi kot mnemotehnično sredstvo, zlasti pri ortografsko zapletenem angleškem jeziku. Moje ugotovitve nakazujejo, da ime grafemsko-barvna sinestezija velik potencial za uporabo kot mnemotehnično sredstvo. Vendar pa bi morala identifikacija sinestezije najprej postati stalna praksa v šolah, da bi jo lahko ti učenci aktivno uporabili.

Avtonomija pri zasnovanju lastne učne strategije, ki temelji na zaznavanih barvah, je osnovnega pomena zaradi svojevrstne narave sinestetskih zaznav.

Ključne besede: grafemsko-barvna sinestezija, asociativno učenje, mnemotehnično sredstvo, angleščina kot tuji jezik


Dedications and Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I would like to thank my mentor Dr Eva Sicherl, for having an open mind about the topic and supporting my research endeavour with zeal from the start. My natural fears and doubts about exposing my neurological condition and trying to prove its credibility were diminished immediately when her eyes lit up at my thesis suggestion. This gave me immense determination to finish this project and mentally persevere through the pandemic which has been ravaging for the past two years. Thank you for your support and guidance.

I also need to express gratitude to my parents, who allowed me to stay with them from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and gave me support and all the time in the world to finish this thesis.

You allowed me to finish it on my own terms without (too much) concern if it would hold together in the end, for which the scientific side of me is grateful. I must also mention my friends, most especially Lev, Nika, Korina, and Julija, who supported me by keeping me sane and young besides offering proofreading and advice; and Rok, Semra and Jernej for always being there for me despite my occasional mood swings and strange hobbies.

Lastly, I would like to thank Nejc for agreeing to be interviewed by me and not once being perplexed by my questions; it is always heart-warming to bond with other synaesthetes and share our experiences.

I dedicate this thesis to all synaesthete students who are yet to discover their additional perceptions and potential.


Table of contents

1. Introduction ... 1

2. General characteristics of synaesthesia ... 3

3. Pruning and cross-activation in brain regions ... 7

4. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia ... 9

4.1 Colour determinants in grapheme-colour synaesthesia ... 12

4.2 Global scale effects on grapheme-colour synaesthesia ... 15

5. Multi-sensory teaching methods for teaching the English language ... 20

5.1 English orthography ... 20

5.2 Learning styles and teaching methods ... 23

5.2.1 Orton-Gilingham approach ... 24

5.2.2 Phonics ... 26

5.3 Visual learning style and mnemonic devices ... 28

6. Research design and methodology ... 31

6.1 Nejc’ s answers ... 33

6.2 My answers... 41

7. Analysis ... 49

8. Discussion ... 51

9. Conclusion ... 55

10. References ... 58

11. Appendix: ... 64



1. Introduction

Over the past two centuries, the general approach to language teaching has gradually been shifting from a solid teacher-centred approach, to a more flexible student-centred approach. With an abnormal spike of attention on this “radical” and more student-friendly idea in the second half of the 20th century, and especially in the past two decades in the 21st, it is no surprise that the students’ needs have become the target of many studies concerning teaching strategies and methods. The studies have further dissected the student population into students with average cognitive abilities, and those with “learning difficulties”; the latter need to be formally diagnosed by professionals, ending up with benefits, such as a private tutor to help them with their studies, or additional time and larger letter fonts in written exams. In other words, students operating with different kinds of mental processes are nowadays able to receive systematic help provided by the educational facilities.

However, there exist certain individuals whose divergent mental processes can be considered either beneficial or disadvantageous. These people have a particular kind of neurological network connecting brain areas which are not otherwise linked in the rest of the population. This neurological condition is called synaesthesia, and the individuals who have it (called synaesthetes) experience additional senses beside the original one; for example, hearing a car horn also produces a sensation of blue colour or smell of caramel. There are dozens of sensory combinations possible, yet one of the most common of synaesthetic combinations is that of seeing letters in colour, also named grapheme-colour synaesthesia.

Since written letters form a considerable part of language, grapheme-colour synaesthesia directly connects to the topic of my M.A. thesis. Additionally, I am also a synaesthete with grapheme- colour synaesthesia, which gives me a great insight into the workings of the mental processes active in a synaesthete’s mind. I have wondered whether and how grapheme-colour synaesthesia affects the learning of the English language, how are letters and words perceived, and how, when building new vocabulary, they are encoded into memory by the rules of “the dual coding theory”, introduced by Paivio in the middle of the 20th century. Since the English language is an opaque language (meaning that a learner can never be exactly sure how to pronounce or write down a


2 new word), grapheme-colour synaesthesia has the possibility of being very helpful in the sphere of spelling and morphology.

I have learnt over the years that my synaesthesia has always been passively present when studying various school subjects; especially when I had to learn loads of information by heart.

Consequently, I have actively tried to incorporate it into my learning strategy while studying Italian, which produced great results concerning writing and reading. Hence, I have wondered whether this kind of autonomy is present in other grapheme-colour synaesthetes, possibly of high-school age, and if not, whether I could guide them into creating their own learning techniques. I believe that every grapheme-colour synaesthete could benefit from creating their own learning strategy based on their idiosyncratic alphabet colours, and use it as at least a type of mnemonic device or in combination with other mnemonic devices when learning a foreign language.

Considering that synaesthetes are usually not aware of the fact that their particular sensory experiences are something which the general population does not have, it is hard to detect them unless you outright ask them about their perceptions. As all children have to attend primary school, I believe it would be best if teachers were at least aware of this condition, and able to guide the students to either do their own research on synaesthesia at home, or come up with a learning strategy together. It is certainly inconceivable that a teacher could keep all the student synaesthetes’ alphabet colours in mind during class or even conduct the lessons with their colours in consideration; therefore it comes down to the students to initiate their autonomy early on and become better aware of how grapheme-colour synaesthesia can help them with learning. Such a feat is possible and has grounds in teaching strategies based on multi-sensory teaching, such as the use of coloured alphabets in the Phonics teaching method, and use of mnemonic devices.

For my research method, I have decided upon conducting an interview with an 18-year-old Slovene synaesthete, named Nejc, and review his experiences of perceiving and learning the English language as L2 vis-à-vis my own. The following are my research questions, through which I try to determine whether and how grapheme-colour synaesthetes:


have a preference for the visual style in learning the English language,




are better autonomous students, who can create a unique additional learning strategy supported by their synaesthetic perceptions,


have a better vocabulary memory due to their focus on the colour sequences in the word,


have a unique outlook on the English grammar structure, which is supported by the letters’ colours and their effect on mental imagery.

2. General characteristics of synaesthesia

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which a particular stimulus triggers an automatic additional sensory perception besides the customary one. Also described as “blending of senses”, its result is an automatic sensory experience of an idiosyncratic nature, meaning that the perceptions are unique to each synesthete; it develops in early childhood, lasting throughout the person’s life, with only its intensity possibly waning over the years (cf. Cytowic 1989, 1;

Cytowic 2018, 14; Grossenbacher and Lovelace 2001, 1; Simner 2012, 1-6; Robertson 2005, 13).

The combinations of the sensory modalities are numerous: for some people, sounds may trigger a sensation of taste, or touching a certain texture may trigger a sensation of smell, while others see colours whenever they experience physical pain.

The field of synaesthesia research identifies the triggering stimulus as “inducer”, and what it induces is a secondary sensory experience, dubbed as “percept” or “concurrent” (following the terminology of Grossenbacher and Lovelace 2001). Throughout my thesis, I shall resort to using only the following couple: “inducer” (the inducing event) and “concurrent” (the additional sensory attribute) in order to not overflow the text with an unnecessary amount of scientific – and later on linguistic – terms.

Allow me now to use an example in order to produce a clearer image of what exactly is an experience of synaesthesia: imagine a girl, let us name her Sarah, sitting by an open window in her living room. Outside, right in front of the window, is a bush and located inside is a little sparrow. The bird suddenly releases a loud and short chirp which is immediately carried to Sarah’s ear and triggers her perception of sound – a normal everyday occurrence. However, Sarah is a synesthete and the neurons in her brain activate two kinds of cortices: both auditory and visual. As a result, when Sarah hears a sparrow’s chirp, she also perceives an image of a light orange spiky bubble in her mind’s eye. To put it into the new terminology: the inducer is the


4 bird’s chirp and the concurrent is the additional perceived image (or photism), of a light orange spiky bubble. The term “photism” refers to the “production of a sensation of light or color by a stimulus to another sense organ, such as of hearing, taste, or touch” (Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary, accessed Feb 2021).

Inducer = bird’s chirp Concurrent = coloured shape

This is an example of a sensational and quite common type of synaesthesia named sound-colour synaesthesia, also known as “chromesthesia.” In the past, the first link in the name of the synaesthesia type described the concurrent set off by the stimuli, and the second link expressed the stimulated sense (hearing a sound and additionally seeing colour would be called “colored hearing synaesthesia”, “Farbenhören” in German or “audition colore” in French) (cf. Rogowska 2011, 214).

However, the opposite was adopted as the modern basis of naming types of synaesthesia (as in Grossenbacher and Lovelace 2001, 1) following the formula:

(I) inducer  (C) concurrent

(Sound)  (Colour) would thus be termed as “sound-colour synaesthesia.”

It is also important to remember that synaesthesia is mostly unidirectional, for example, if smell induces the experience of colour, vice versa (colour inducing a sensation of smell) is not typical (Grossenbacher and Lovelace 2001, 1).

Synesthetic experiences manifest in three different ways, so there are three types of synaesthesia regarding its origin, as enumerated by Grossenbacher and Lovelace (2001, 2):

1. Developmental synaesthesia: the synaesthete has the right genome which is responsible for the cross-wiring of neurons in the brain. Synaesthesia develops in early childhood and the person consistently experiences their additional perceptions (Grossenbacher and



5 Lovelace 2001, 2). It is the most common type of synaesthesia and the one I am going to focus on in this thesis.

2. Acquired synaesthesia: this type of synaesthesia can be “a result of brain injury or sensory deafferentation (lack of connection between the sensory nerves and the central nervous system)” (Grossenbacher and Lovelace 2001, 2). Some patients may have temporary synaesthesia after head trauma, and the experience can be very confusing to them since it is the first time they are encountering layered sensory perceptions.

3. Pharmacological synaesthesia: This is a temporary case of additional sensory perceptions during a drugged state (Grossenbacher and Lovelace 2001, 2). Hallucinogenic drugs (like LSD) can block certain synapses from receiving the right neurotransmitters. As Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 4) point out: “LSD users often do report synaesthesia both during the high as well as long after.”

According to a University statistics study based on a sample of 500 people from Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, synaesthetes represent approximately 4.4 % of the general population, with the participants displaying nine different types of synaesthesia (Simner and Mulvenna et al.

2006, 1028). Statistics also prove that synaesthesia is prevalent in females (cf. Baron-Cohen et al.

1996). This kind of statistic research is, however, hard to conduct since synesthetes are often not aware of their neural cross-wiring. According to their generated concurrents which build the synesthete’s “different texture of reality” (as described by Cytowic 2018, 51), the world is considered normal as is perceived by them. They believe everyone perceives the external stimuli the same way as they do – as though everybody smelled fresh bread whenever they heard a police siren; this is why the moment when they realize that their perceptions vary from the majority can be quite shocking and paradigm-shifting. Some synesthetes become a target of ridicule, since other people might not believe them or think he or she is just looking for attention (cf. Cytowic 2018, 14). Yet Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 4) observe that the opposite is true in their experience with studying synaesthetes: if they wanted attention, they would spread the information about their special cross-wiring; instead, they think that everyone around them perceives the world in the same way, or they had been ridiculed in their childhood for bringing up the topic, and are therefore silent about their perceptions.


6 Basirat and Hupé (2020, 7) bring attention to the existence of possible problems regarding the identification of children synaesthetes. The test-retest method (checking if the subject’s answers match the original ones after a period of time), which is used for adult synaesthetes, is very much reliable and successful; however, the same cannot be said for the tests involving children. There are discrepancies among statistical studies with variations of ±2 %. In addition, there are also many cases of ambiguous subjects who showed mixed results, as seen in the study by Smees et al. (2019), which had to be dismissed in their final research analysis. Some children may have different test results due to distractions or just plain decision to choose a different colour to appoint to a letter, like choosing a hue for colouring a picture in a colouring book. Some children even out-right lied while talking about their experiences – they admitted to doing so. This is an important factor in the student’s autonomy, since the great majority of synaesthetes are “self- diagnosed” and should not expect their authoritative figures (i.e. their teachers) to out-right ask the class if there are any students present in the class with a different neurological network.

The shock and acceptance depends on the age at which the synesthete shares one’s sensory experiences with other people (which is also the only way for one to realise that their perceptions are different); an adult sharing a summary of their synesthetic experiences would be better listened to than a child synesthete, whose recounts would be often dismissed as a case of strong imagination. A child synaesthete who is not believed can grow up hiding the information about their unique “perk.”

Generally, synaesthesia is reported to be beneficial, since it can aid memory retention, especially concerning language (cf. Yaro and Ward 2007); however, in Rich’s study (2005, 68) it is found that 30 percent of their sample also think of synaesthesia as a disadvantage. Out of these 30 percent, most respondents report that their synaesthetic concurrents confuse them in their every- day life. Nine percent of these 58 participants report that synaesthesia overloads their senses and is exhausting in certain situations, and seven percent find it uncomfortable to be ‘different’ from other people.

By contrast, 30 % of the sample (58 participants) reported that synaesthesia could be a disadvantage. Of these, 35 % confused words that elicited similar synaesthetic colours, and 10 % reported conflict when a word’s meaning was somehow


7 inconsistent with its synaesthetic colour. For example, for KM the word ‘starboard’

is red. When she is sailing, she gets confused because red lights indicate ‘port’ and green lights indicate ‘starboard.’ (Rich 2005, 67)

3. Pruning and cross-activation in brain regions

Researchers have discovered that during the first few months of brain development, there is an overproduction of neurons and the overload of synaptic processes may create random and unnecessary connections between them, since this synaptic connectivity is not pre-programmed by genetics. This is why, in order to boost neural efficiency, the neurons go through the process of “pruning”, i.e. elimination of around 40 percent of redundant neuron connections, which helps shape the neural connectivity into the most essential neural network construction to help the person’s survival (Zillmer 2008, 118). Synaesthesia has been scientifically proven as genuine, tested by brain imaging scans and seen in inheritance patterns, which all suggest that it is a result of genetic mutation. This mutation may contribute to the stopping of the “pruning process” taking place during early childhood, resulting in certain neurons staying connected between regions of the brain otherwise unrelated (Simner and Mulven 2006, 1).

In other words, a 5-month-old baby already has the ability to see the world in colour, and furthermore, they have also been able to hear the sounds around them since they were inside their mother’s womb. With their brain’s hyper-connectivity of neurons taking place (the saying

“children’s brains are like sponges” is not far-off), there are undoubtedly neurons connecting the visual and hearing cortices, or perhaps the brain centres for smell and touch (or any sensory combination). These neurons would normally be pruned but since something in the baby’s genetic material stops it from happening, the baby grows into a synaesthete with the uncommon neural connections intact.

Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 11) suggest that the activation of genes which prevent pruning occurs in different regions throughout the brain in some cases: “Even though a single gene might be involved, it may be expressed in a patchy manner to different extents and in different anatomical loci in different synaesthetes. This may depend on the expression of certain modulators or transcription factors.” This explains why synaesthetes often have more than one type of synaesthesia.


8 Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 7-8) conducted a few experiments on synaesthetes who sense colour when reading letters and/or numbers, and note the following conclusions which prove the authenticity of the condition being sensory in nature:

1. “The induced colours led to perceptual grouping and pop-out.” This has been proven by the “2’s and 5’s” test. A triangle made of 2’s embedded in the matrix of 5’s “pops-out”

for a synaesthete’s eyes. This proves that the condition is genuinely on the perceptual field.

2. “A grapheme rendered invisible through ‘crowding’ or lateral masking induced synaesthetic colours – a form of blindsight.” If a grapheme is hidden among a crowd of different graphemes in the peripheral vision, a synaesthete is still able to perceive its colour; “We have found that the crowded grapheme nevertheless evoked the appropriate colour; a curious new form of blindsight. The subject said, ‘I can’t see that middle letter but it must be an “O” because it looks blue.’ This observation implies, again, that the colour is evoked at an early sensory – indeed preconscious – level rather than at a higher cognitive level.”

3. “Peripherally presented graphemes did not induce colours even when they were clearly visible.” Enlarging the grapheme in the peripheral vision at one point stopped producing a coloured concurrent.

Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 9) also distinguish between lower synaesthetes with cross- activation within the fusiform gyrus (designed to process colour information and word recognition) and higher synaesthetes with the activation in the angular gyrus (deals with language, memory and reasoning). The fusiform gyrus harbours two colour areas in the brain: V4 and V8, and the fact that the V4 area is adjacent to the visual grapheme area explains a lot concerning the commonness of grapheme-colour synaesthesia, where the person sees graphemes (letters and/or numbers) in colour (cf. Cytowic and Eagleman 2009, 73).


9 Another thing Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 12-13) point out is that although synaesthesia is fundamentally rooted in sensory perceptions, it does not mean that top-down influences (higher cognitive processes such as attention, expectation, etc.) cannot influence the experience. One such thing is the manageability of focus and its effect on the concurrents. For example, if you grouped together a bunch of letters (say “f”) into a larger letter (“s”), the shift in focus from local to global would influence the perception of colour. If the grapheme-colour synaesthete focused on the local scale – seeing and recognizing “f”’s, they would perceive multiple bursts of (let’s say green) colour. If, however, the focus changed to the global scale, encompassing the shape of the grapheme “s”, the synaesthete would see one connected yellow “s”-shaped line. This proves that attention can affect this sensory phenomenon; in other words, cognition can affect sensory processing.

4. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia

For the purpose of my thesis research, I have chosen a type of synaesthesia most related to the topic of language learning: grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which causes the synesthete to perceive colour when seeing, hearing or thinking about a grapheme (cf. Cytowic 2018, 32). Since language is the most frequent “trigger” of synesthetic experiences, Simner (2006c, 28) even

Figure 2 Shifting attention to the local scale, a synaesthete sees green F’s, whereas on the global scale, the shape of the letter S is yellow.

Figure 1: “Schematic showing that cross-wiring in the fusiform might be the neural basis of grapheme-colour synaesthesia. Area V4 is shown in red while the number- grapheme area is shown in green.”(Image taken from Ramachandran and Hubbard 2001, appendix)


10 suggests that research into grapheme-colour synaesthesia has potential for deeper understanding of language processing.

Mankin (2017a, 8) stresses that: “synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes both acquire language in the same way, with synaesthetes being predisposed to develop additional associations on top of otherwise typical processing.” Therefore, it is important to note that nobody is implying that grapheme-colour synaesthetes are in any way better language learners – they are simply acquiring and storing language information in a different way, the process of which they are able to figure out and utilize in their own best advantage if they so wish.

So what exactly encompasses grapheme-colour synaesthesia? For some people, inducers are only graphemes (or letters), for others the numerals are the ones inducing colour, and in some cases the synesthete experiences coloured concurrents from both graphemes and numerals. In my thesis, I shall not focus on numerals, for they are in most part inconsequential to language learning; instead, my attention will be confined to how the associations between letters and colours can change the cognitive processes during language learning. I must also point out that graphemes and phonemes are not the same or even connected in low-transparency languages – the English language being a great example of a very opaque language. Cytowic and Eagleman (2009) nicely explain this separation between the effect of graphemes and phonemes with a few examples:

“Alphabet colors are typically determined by graphemes rather than phonemes. That is, how something is spelled matters more than how it sounds. Thus, “fish” and

“photo” look different even though they sound similar. “Cathie” may look synesthetically different from its homonym “Kathy,” and “Brown” different from

“Browne.” (Cytowic and Eagleman 2009, 32)

I shall focus more on the opaqueness of the English language later on in the chapter on English orthography. For now, it is important to remember that only graphemes, and not pronunciation, affect the triggering of grapheme-colour synaesthesia; if, however, the synaesthete experiences other kinds of synaesthesia as well (for example hearing-colour synaesthesia), that could potentially affect the concurrent.


11 Grapheme-colour synaesthetes are, among other synaesthetes, divided into two groups regarding where in the space around them the concurrents occur: the associators and projectors. The former sees the concurrents only in their mind – or in the “mind’s eye”; whereas the latter actually sees the colour on the page, covering the letters’ font. Both groups are aware, however, that the letter font’s colour is different (usually black) (cf. Cytowic 2009, 72; Cytowic 2018, 33; Dixon et al.


Novich et al. (2011, 359) categorize grapheme-colour synaesthesia as part of “colored sequences”, which Cytowic (2018, 41) defines as: “A sensation of color in response to ordered sequences, especially overlearned ones like alphabets, days of the week, calendar months, and numerals.” The fact that the types of synaesthesia with colour connected to sequences such as the alphabet, days or months are so common, shows that ordered sequences are often associated with colour in early childhood when the child is “forced” to recognize and memorize letters and numerals. They are learned in sequences: first come the numerals from 1 to 10 along with certain letters of the alphabet, and then the range is gradually extended over time. By age 4, the child already knows the alphabet’s sequence (Cytowic 2018, 30). Furthermore, Watson and Akins (2014, 1) state that “synesthetic associations are not merely learned, but learned for strategic purposes”, which, however, does not dismiss the importance of genetic factors responsible for the ability of neural cross-wiring. Taking into account that this rote-learning is taking place while the children are also learning the sequences of days of the week and months of the year, it is not unusual that grapheme-colour synaesthesia is so prevalent (1.2 percent among the general

Figure 3: Grapheme-colour synaesthetes are divided into associators and projectors.

(Fitri, Associators see the colors with their “mind’s eyes.” Projectors see the color directly on the letters. Image taken from https://synesthesia.com/blog/grapheme-color- synesthesia/. Accessed on 14 August 2021 ).


12 population according to Carmichael et al. (2015, 381), residing at the top of the most common types of synaesthesia right after seeing days and months in colour.

Nevertheless, in a study conducted by Rich (2005, 66), only a small percentage of questioned synaesthetes were able to say with certainty what stimuli in their childhood caused their adopting of the concurrents, whereas 79 percent were unable to point out the source of their additional perceptions. This proves that synaesthesia is not a product of memory and conscious associations-forming. Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 10) assert that this genetically- conditioned surplus of cross-activation between brain regions only provides an opportunity for the concurrents to be invoked by inducers – the final result (or form of the synaesthesia) requires learning – or at least subconscious acquisition. This also explains why each inducer triggers only one kind of concurrent (for example, the letter “e” will always be only the colour orange), and there is no disorganization between the layered perceptions; if the person had not subconsciously assigned only one colour to each inducer, the concurrents would not have been consistent.

4.1 Colour determinants in grapheme-colour synaesthesia

What exactly determines the colour of the concurrent triggered by a certain grapheme depends on a number of linguistic factors, as mentioned by Mankin (2017b, 31) and Watson et al. (2012, 215):

- Shape of the letter

- Frequency of the letter in the language - Ordinality in the alphabet sequence

- Individual differences among synaesthetes

Whereas the shape of the letter, what with each letter being different from the other, and individual differences among synaesthetes (age, culture, exposure to inducers, etc.) are obvious reasons for the letters having various coloured concurrents, the frequency and ordinality of the letters might be surprising factors. The following tables (see Figure 3, 4) presents the frequency of the letters used in the English language. It is evident that the letters “e”, “t”, and “a” are clearly dominating the frequency scale, whereas “j”, “q”, and “z” are the least frequent letters used in English. Following the indications by Watson et al. (2012, 214), the frequency of the letters


13 affects the coloured concurrent’s luminance – or brightness – whereas the shape of the letter and the position in the alphabetical order direct the colour hue. Following their findings, we can presume that the letters “e”, “t” and “a”, being the most frequent in the English language, trigger the brightest concurrents – for the native speakers, of course. However, since my thesis revolves around non-native grapheme-colour synaesthetes learning the English language, these statistics based on the frequency of letters in the English language will not completely correspond with the one in their native language. If, however, there is an overlap of frequency of the letters in both languages, the chances for the student to operate better with the English alphabet improve. For example, the frequency of letters in the Slovene alphabet is as follows: e a o i n l s r j t v k d p m z b u g č h š c ž f (Jakopin 1999). Therefore, following the conclusion above, Slovene grapheme- colour synaesthetes should not have any huge problems with learning English, regarding the frequency of letters; for example, the Polish language would likely pose more problems for Slovene students regarding its frequent use of the letter “w” or foreign “ę”, “ą” or “ń”.

Figure 5: Another presentation of the letters’ frequency based on the same information as the previous table, according to Norvig (English Letter Frequency Counts, accessed March 2021)

Figure 4 Letters in an order of frequency based on 3, 563, 505, 777, 820 letters, according to Norvig (English Letter Frequency Counts, accessed on March 2021)


14 Concerning the sound of the letter being a key factor in inducing colours for graphemes, Asano and Yokosawa (2013) disagree when it comes to the English language – whereas in the Japanese language this factor stands. They propose a new model with the help of which they take into account certain developmental processes, excluding the pronunciation of letters, the ambiguity of which is characteristic in the English language. An example they provide is how the grapheme

“c” evokes the same colour in the words “cat” and “cite” even though the pronunciations are different: /kæt/ and /saɪt/ respectively.

Asano and Yokosawa (2013, 2) continue discussing the importance of the ordinality domain of letters. Since each letter has a position in the alphabet sequence, it adds another distinct characteristic for letter recognition alongside its shape and pronunciation. Looking at the example A (Figure 7), which illustrates various mechanisms which take place during perception of the grapheme “C” in the English alphabet, we can see that the brain activates three different processes simultaneously: recognizing the letter’s pronunciation, its place in the alphabet sequence (ordinality), and its shape.

Cytowic and Eagleman (2009) explain how the first letters in the alphabet have more distinct colours than those coming later in the alphabet sequence: the order in which the alphabet is learned creates the necessity for the learner to designate distinguishable colours between them.

Figure 6: “Schematic illustrations of the comprehensive explanatory model of synesthetic grapheme-colour association proposed in this study. In the case of English alphabets (A) and Hiragana characters (B).” Obtained from: Asano and Yokosawa (2013, 2)


15 For example, the letters from “a” to “g” may be more distinct in their colours from one another than the letters from “m” to “s”, which are prone to having different shades of hues already used before (there is only a finite number of primary and secondary colours from which to pick).

Rich et al. (2005, 78) observe that the coloured concurrents acquired during learning the native language can be often applied when the subject is learning foreign languages as well. A synesthete, dubbed “KT”, whom they questioned, claimed that when learning Greek as a non- native language as an adult, the Greek letters acquired the coloured concurrents responding to the form or sound of the Roman alphabet he used in his native language (cf. Rich et al. 2005, 80). In my case, most Greek letters (except for the ones similar to the Latin alphabet) have no colour as of yet, despite knowing their pronunciation; for example, the colour of sigma (“Σ”) is not yellow like “s”. However, English combinations “ch” and “sh” when pronounced as /tʃ/ and /ʃ/, respectively, sometimes adopt the same orange colouring as Slovene “č” (/tʃ/) and “š” (/ʃ/), depending on the colour of the following letters.

4.2 Global scale effects on grapheme-colour synaesthesia

For many individuals, a word’s first letter dominates the rest of the sequence, whereas others discern a blending in which all the letters influence one another.

Some report that vowels tend to fade into the back-ground under the dominating influence of neighboring consonants; in other cases, vowels inherit the shade of nearby colors. Some letters have more influence than others when appearing at the beginning of a word. (Cytowic and Eagleman 2009, 67)

With this quote, I now finally enter the psycholinguistic field surrounding the discussed neurological condition. Considering that grapheme-colour synaesthesia is indeed grounded in the local level regarding the coloured letters separately, I must point out the importance of the fact that the letters are rarely seen – or registered – separately when encountering a text; the combining of letters into words is a great factor when it comes to synaesthetic experiences. The following are some of the synaesthetic effects connected to grapheme-colour synaesthesia on the global scale when reading.


16 One such occurrence called “unitization” is addressed by Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001, 13).

They showed a sentence to their test subjects in which they had to identify all f’s: “Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years." Non- synaesthetes mostly reported only three f-s, having trouble with locating them in the function words which are treated differently in the terms of cognition as lexical units. Synaesthetes also had trouble locating all six graphemes, which proves that “the unitization constrains the emergence of the synaesthetic colour.” This means that once again, the top-down influences such as expectation – being used to seeing the function words as units and not often analysing them – can affect the synaesthetic concurrents depending on the perception of the inducer. (This test is probably not as efficient nowadays due to many people already aware of this test/trick, which would make them pay more attention to non-lexical words.)

Another such interesting phenomenon occurring on the global scale of the word is the whole- word colour effect. Rich et al. (2005, 74) note that many of their synaesthete subjects reported seeing the words having one colour: usually the colour of the first letter:

Many of our synaesthetes reported that the first letter of a word determines its synaesthetic colour, and that most (if not all) words that start with that letter elicit the same colour. This implies that either letters and words with the same initial sound become linked to the same synaesthetic colour, or letters are linked to colours and then these generalise to words when spelling is learned. (Rich et al. 2005, 74)

Mankin (2017b, 70-71) further investigates the effect of letters on the whole-word colour. Her findings show that the colour of the source letter, which dominates the whole-word colour, is not always identical to the whole-word colour. This means that the adjacent letters can considerably affect the colour hue based on their colour intensity. Furthermore, Mankin (2017b, 82) also shows that there exists a systematic preference for the source letters’ position: 67 percent of the participants in her study said that the initial letter was the dominant one (consonant in all examples) whereas for the 16 percent, the source letter was the first vowel appearing in the word.


17 Additionally, Simner et al. (2006a, 287) address the finding that the main factor in determining the whole-word colour is also syllable stress and that the letter position is only of secondary influence; their case study proves that the whole-word colour was not dependent on the initial letter in words like “cadet”, where the second syllable carries the stress. However, they come to the conclusion that such effect of lexical stress is more common in the perceptions of synaesthetes for whom the first vowel is the dominant letter, since syllables are grounded in vowels.

Furthermore, Simner et al. (2006a, 282) ask themselves two questions: firstly, whether the position of the letters is critical concerning the dominance of certain graphemes in a word; and secondly, what role is played by the non-dominating graphemes in the word? They establish that the dominance of the initial letter – or first vowel/consonant for some synaesthetes – in a word is connected to the word-recognition process. The following are the three main reasons why:

a) initial letters are easier to recognize because they are not crowded by other letters (at least when reading/writing from left-to-right),

b) when reading, the initial letter is processed first, and

c) initial letter is a primary component of the lexical code (the syllable which activates the mental lexicon and accesses the meaning of the word in question)

Mankin (2017b, 50-51) argues that although there exist many models of visual word recognition in the English language, of which among the main ones are the serial model (processing words from left to right and the word is not recognized until the last letter is scanned) and the parallel model (all of the letters are processed simultaneously, which is contradictory in nature to the effect of initial letters dominating the whole-word colour), given that words in English are indeed read in a left-to-right fashion, the letters in the area where the eye’s focus lands first have more dominance in the colour establishing of the word. In addition, if one scrambled the sequence of the letters in a word without changing the initial and last one, the word would still be processed – although a bit more slowly; however, if the initial letter was displaced, the speed of the recognition process would be severely slowed, if not even halted completely. This demonstrates the power of the initial letters – and thus their dominant effect on the whole-word colour can be accepted.


18 Another observation made by Simner et al. (2006a) is that of the time of the concurrent’s colour appearance while reading. There is a certain distinction between lexical-chromatic synaesthesia and grapheme-colour synaesthesia – yet they are often both present in grapheme-colour synaesthetes:

a) Lexical-chromatic synaesthesia: the whole-word colour is only triggered after recognizing the word i.e. after accessing it in the mental lexicon. Therefore, even though the letters of

“sun” are for a certain synaesthete green, blue and red, respectively, the word would trigger the holistic colour yellow due to its association with the sun. Lexical semantics plays a large part in the whole-word colour of processed words and thus disregards the colour of the composing letters. It is better explained by the following quote:

“There is an effect of lexical semantics, in that high imagery words with inherent real-world colour (e.g. table = woody brown) give rise to interference in the naming of synaesthetic colours. The influence of such semantic features reinforces the assumption of high-level lexical processing in this particular manifestation.” (Simner et al. 2006a, 281)

Mankin (2017b, 116) also observes that high-imageability words (or concrete words) like

“apple,” “fire” or “grass” evoke a clearer mental image when reading, hearing or thinking about them, in contrary to low-imageability words (or abstract words) like “friendship,”

“establishment” or “transfer”. The closeness of the whole-word colour to the one of the mental image of the word, depends also on the word’s frequency, and on the synaesthete.

Mankin (2017b, 124) also follows on by identifying the effect of index words, which are the words most often used in associations when learning the alphabet sequence (“a” is for apple, “d” is for dog and “q” is for queen, therefore “a” is red as an apple, “d” is brown as a dog and “q” is purple like the queen’s royal colour).

b) Grapheme-colour synaesthesia: The colour of the letters constructing the word affects the whole-word colour; however, one grapheme is dominating the word with its own colour, which prevails over the whole word.

Cytowic and Eagleman (2009, 68) show an example of how the colour of the letters – and consequentially the whole-word colour – can change after the synaesthete learns the word’s meaning; the participant in their study first told what colours the word “phthalocyanine”


19 included, and then, after actually learning the word’s meaning (a blue-green pigment), he reported seeing the word differently coloured (see Figure 7).

The next global-scale effect also described and depicted by Cytowic and Eagleman (2009, 67), is that of the repetition of letters in a word affecting the whole-word colour. Their synaesthete study subject reported to experiencing a more intense whole-word colour in the word “synaesthesia”

due to the repetition of green “s”s. The repetition of the letter “s” therefore influences the adjacent letters, turning them more green (see Figure 9)

Since scientists have confirmed the existence of whole-word colour effect and discussed its inducers, Mankin (2017b, 45) had the idea of researching how grapheme-colour synaesthetes perceive compound words. She wondered whether the compounds are perceived in one (dominant) or more (secondary) colours. She deduces that high-frequency compound words (“football”) would be perceived as of one colour, whereas low-frequency compounds (“lifevest”) would force the brain to pick the word apart, and consequently see the constituents in two separate colours.

Here, the experimental part of my thesis shows the possibility of the second constituent in the compounds being less-successfully perceived due to their initial letter having a pale, non-vibrant

Figure 7 The synaesthete’s perception of the word before and after learning the word’s meaning (blue-green pigment) (Obtained from Cytowic and Eagleman (2009, 70)).

Figure 8: The synaesthete’s depiction of the word with the colour of separate letters (top) and as he sees it as a whole, with the repeating letters forcing the adjacent letters to adopt its colour (bottom) (Obtained from Cytowic and Eagleman (2009, 70)).


20 colour. It is known that colours are naturally associated with emotional responses, for example red triggering focus and blue having a calming effect (cf. Hurlbert and Ling 2017).

All of these perception effects are grounded in the synaesthete’s degree of awareness and focus.

When focusing on a separate letter, its colour is perceived as more distinct than when it is present in a word in combination with others. There is a misguided belief that grapheme-colour synaesthetes are aware of their perceptions all the time, for all of the graphemes while reading;

however, just like we are not always consciously aware of the colour of items surrounding us in our every-day life, so a synaesthete is not always registering their sensory experiences.

Synaesthesia may be involuntary, but a brain is quick to analyse and then ignore nonessential data (cf. Cytowic and Eagleman 2009, 74).

5. Multi-sensory teaching methods for teaching the English language

In this part of my thesis, I first briefly explain how opaque the English language actually is, and how learning it can be either more or less difficult depending on the student’s native language (cf.

Chen 2020; Jajić Novogradec 2021; Ramírez et al. 2013). Consequently, this gave rise to various English language teaching methods which adopt the multi-sensory teaching model in order to get the best possible results from encoding new grammar and vocabulary.

5.1 English orthography

English orthography is a collection of difficult spellings originating from various other languages (mostly French and Scandinavian alongside Greek, Latin, and nowadays even Chinese and Japanese), from which the English language constructed its hybrid vocabulary. In order to demonstrate it better, I must first explain the differences between the terms “script,” “writing system” and “orthography”. As explained by Miller (2019, 1), the script is a collection of specific symbols which are used to write a language – for example, hieroglyphs, or Roman letters; the writing system is a linguistic unit which is displayed by a language’s graphemes – in other words, the writing systems refer to the process of how the meaning is written down. The three main types of writing systems are: alphabetic, syllabic (Japanese) and morphographic (or logographic, which is used by the Chinese). What constitutes orthography, in the end, is “the specific patterns


21 of correspondences between the graphic and phonological forms”. In plain English, orthography is the way how the word is read based on its letters.

The English language uses the Roman script and the alphabetic writing system, which means that each grapheme corresponds to a certain phoneme. However, the correspondences between graphemes and sounds are not at all as clear as one would wish them to be. The degree of grapheme-phoneme correspondence (also known as orthographical depth or transparency) ranges from very shallow, which is common for Slavic languages, where mostly each grapheme has only one phoneme assigned to it, to very deep (or low transparency – opaque languages), an example of which is English, whose correspondences are extremely unreliable and inconsistent.

Decoding words is much more difficult in deep orthographies such as English, and deep orthographies require readers to rely less on letter-by-letter reading and instead to use groups of letters, morphemes, and lexical information that is unique to each word (Miller 2019, 3).

To illustrate some irregularities connected to the English grapheme-phoneme correspondences, the following can be mentioned (cf. Miller 2019 3; Birsh and Carreker 2018, 632-633):

1. One grapheme can correspond to many phonemes: letter <c> can be read as /k/ in

“cat” or /s/ in “certain”. Or -ed can be read as /d/, /ɪd/ or /t/ in played, hunted and walked, respectively. The plural affix <-s> can be read as /s/ (cats) or /z/ (dogs). It is especially problematic concerning vowel pronunciation (“dove”, “tear”,

“laughter” (note the vowel digraphs “ea” and “au” in the last two examples)).

2. One phoneme can correspond to many graphemes, which is dubbed as “many-to- one relationship”: the /k/ sound can be written as <c>, <k> or <q> (“cat”, “kite”, and “quiet”).

3. Consonant digraphs (or consonant clusters), such as <th>, <sh>, <ch> and <ck>

correspond to a single sound (“think”, “shoo”, “chain”, and “pick”).

4. Preservation of word stems in orthographical representation but not in phonological one (for example, pronunciation changes in “nation” and “national”, but keeps

“nation” in spelling. Another example would be “mean” and “meant”).


22 5. Silent letters which are present orthographically but not in pronunciation (“night”,

“though”, “pterodactyl”, and “debt”). Some such letters are known as “markers”

that include information about how the letter should be pronounced (cottage  “e”

at the end signals that g is not /g/ but /dʒ/).

6. Homographs, which are pronounced differently depending on context but have the same orthographical representation (words such as “read”, “convict”, “live”, etc.)

The English language, as proven above, harbours many problems for a learner – especially one learning it as their second language. Its spelling, with a plethora of words having retained their spelling from their language of origin, is a potential nightmare since there are no consistent spelling rules to navigate by. Students therefore have difficulty in learning encoding and decoding rules, and must essentially learn the majority of the word-formation rules and their exceptions by heart. These problems are usually solved by teaching phonics and morphology in practice.

As far as syntax is concerned, the English language can be either harder or easier to learn, depending on the ESL student’s native language. Compared to Slovene, for example, which has six cases, no articles, dual number, and double (or triple or more) negation, it seems that the English language would be easier to learn for Slovene students, since it has only three cases (subjective, possessive, and objective). The same goes for the grammatical number, as English only has singular and plural. Articles might be challenging to learn, since they are a cognitive novelty, and singular negation might be a bit tricky to remember, since it requires additional learning of auxiliary words (such as “any”), and in some cases involves advanced logical reasoning. I believe that irregularities in plural nouns and verbs are a matter of vocabulary retention and will therefore not count them among the difficulties in learning English syntax; but, a memorization of all kinds of function words (for example, “a”, “to”, “of”, “any”, etc. ) is a must for the creation of sentences. Furthermore, Slovene is also an inflectional language, whereas English is an analytic language; therefore, in English, the word order is very important for coherence, whereas in Slovene the rules for it are not as strict.

In relation to memorization and inflectional rules, the English language has a large assortment of irregular word forms, for example plural nouns which do not follow the rule of adding of the inflectional morpheme “-s/-ies” at the end of the word. Gor (2010, 2) explains how the regular


23 plural nouns are automatically composed and decomposed and thus less taxing on the storage space of the mental lexicon; on the other hand, the irregular nouns, each having their own additional transformed form, need to be coded into memory, since a decomposition of such a word into morphemes is not possible.

5.2 Learning styles and teaching methods

As a result of the English language’s deep orthography, the field of literacy teaching in both young and adult EFL students has experienced a growth spurt of various teaching methods in the past 60-or-so years. Researchers have found out that memory is better retained when a piece of information is connected to more than one piece of data. In other words, the more associations you make with the piece of information you are trying to embed into your memory, the better are the chances of it being retained.

Concerning the fact that synaesthesia is grounded in the stimulus-response basis, it is no surprise that Whiton Calkins, who was an avid synaesthesia researcher during its golden age in the 19th century, invented the Paired-Associate Learning method in 1894, which was supported by her report on associations created between numbers and colours (cf. Jewanski 2019, 18). The core of Paired-Associate Learning is the connection between two objects or words – the associations are created between them in order to be better stored and accessed in memory.

Paired-Associate Learning is essential in learning how to read. Distinguishing various letters and phonemes is only the first step – the following being the construction of associations between the two sets of information. To illustrate, the learner needs to learn to associate the letter “p” with either the phoneme /p/ or /f/ (or perhaps with silence as in “pterodactyl”), depending on the combination with other letters present in the word (“pain” vs. “photo”). More about this learning of association between graphemes and phonemes later in the chapter of Phonics.

Now, the existence of synaesthetic concurrents already proves that a subconscious process of Paired-Associate Learning has taken place in a synaesthete’s early childhood. However, applying this same method consciously in combination with grapheme-colour synaesthesia when a synaesthete is studying a foreign language, could be beneficial if done right and with proper motivation.


24 5.2.1 Orton-Gilingham approach

While searching for a teaching method resembling the workings of a synaesthete’s learning style, I came across an acclaimed language teaching approach incorporating multi-sensory elements in their methods: the Orton Gilingham approach. It results from joint work of a neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Samuel T. Orton (1897 – 1948), and a psychologist and educator, Anna Gillingham (1878 – 1964). The former was especially interested in researching the difficulties with reading and language processing, whereas the latter possessed knowledge about the teaching and workings of language. In the 1930s, they wanted to uncover how a student internalizes the structure of a language by explicitly teaching the students the elements of language, such as morphology, phonology, etc., and training their automaticity with applying this knowledge when reading and spelling. In the 1960s, the Orton-Gillingham principles were finally published by Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman, Samuel Orton’s colleague. In other words, Gillingham and Stillman established a language-teaching approach in which the students are systematically taught to become aware of the inner structure of words, and keep this awareness in mind when reading and writing. (Birsh and Carreker 2018, 784; Joshi et al. 2002, 231-232; What Is the Orton- Gillingham Approach?, https://www.ortonacademy.org/resources/what-is-the-orton-gillingham- approach/; accessed on August 15 2021).

The approach utilizes multisensory tools which cater to various learning styles: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile. For example, the teacher would not only present the graphemes and pronounce them, but he or she might also use shaping play dough or instruct students to retrace the letter shapes in the air or sand. The multisensory tool which caught my attention most was a colour-coded alphabet (What Is the Orton-Gillingham Approach?, https://www.ortonacademy.org/resources/what-is-the-orton-gillingham-approach/; accessed on August 15 2021).

In one such Orton-Gillingham-based teaching curriculum, named Lil' Reading Scientists'™

curriculum, the teachers use specifically chosen colours for various types of letters and their combinations/clusters. For example, if the focus of the lesson is on the most basic structure of words, then the consonants are red and the five vowels are blue; at the program’s higher level, the focus is on combinations of vowels and consonants (clusters or chunks), the former being orange


25 and the latter black; furthermore, a level higher adds an attention to affixes which are either green or light blue. This is acknowledged as a great multisensory tool for teaching young students reading and writing. The students end up regarding the letters or segments of words as building blocks, which can be put together or taken apart; their coding and decoding skills are thus improved. Here is the explanation of the alphabet system and some examples of result words, as written on the teaching program’s official website by Jenelle Erickson Boyd (Using a Color- Coded Alphabet to Teach Reading and Spelling, accessed on August 15 2021):

Consonants are red: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z

Short Vowels are blue: a, e, i, o, u Long Vowels are pink: a, e, i, o, u Digraphs are purple: ch, sh, wh, th, ck Chunks are black: an, am, ang, ank, ing, ink, ong, onk, ung, unk

Bossy R is brown: ar, er, ir, or, ur Vowel Teams are orange: ea, ai, ay, ee, ey, eigh, igh, ou, ow, oy, oi, aw, au

Suffixes are green: s, ing, er, r, ed, d, ness, ful, ment

Prefixes are light blue: pro, pre, de, un

Silent E is yellow: e

wish duck ship whip Words with Vowel Teams:

boat rain play bee Words with Suffixes:

wishing sinking Words with Prefixes:

pretend refresh

There are many literacy teaching methods which use colour-coding and thus help with the consolidation of words and their pronunciation in the mental lexicon; for example, in the Silent Way approach along with the Gattegno’s literacy approach named Words in Color with the use of Fidel spelling charts (see Figure 11) (cf. Cherry 2008). Grapheme-synaesthesia works in a similar

Figure 9: Lil’ Reading Scientists’™ word building board with foam letters. (Obtained from:

https://www.lilreadingscientists.com/product/extra-lrs-word- building-board-module-1-only-with-letters/. Accessed on 15 August 2021).


26 way, but the synaesthete always has his or her own set of colour-coded alphabet letters at hand with which they can work. Ironically, the Orton-Gillingham approach with a coloured alphabet would be a terrible choice for a synesthetic learner, since its universal colouring of letters, morphemes, etc., would not match their own concurrents, thus posing additional challenge to the brain trying to perceive the graphemes. Additionally, the prefixes and suffixes could only in very rare cases be coded in the same colour in synaesthetes’ brains, therefore using only, for example, green colour for all suffixes would most likely be too taxing or tiresome for the student, since colours would clash and focus would be hard to upkeep (cf. Smilek 2002).

5.2.2 Phonics

Now that I have described a multi-sensory tool of teaching, I present a teaching method, which focuses on deconstructing the English words. Phonics is a popular teaching method for students (usually children) to learn the grapheme-phoneme correspondences. It helps them code and decode words; they learn how to take apart words into separate letters (or groups of letters – digraphs) and associate them with certain speech sounds. For example, the word “fish” has four letters, yet three phonemes /f/, /ɪ/, and /ʃ/. Since the English spoken language has more than forty distinct phonemes and only twenty-six letters, there is bound to be some difficulty with certain letters or combinations of letters, which is why phonics is a great way of ensuring the students of English are taught how to recognize the exceptions in pronunciation of certain graphemes – for example, how the sound /f/ can be spelled as <f>, <ff>, <ph> or even <gh> (cf. Birsh and Carreker 2018, 274; Blevins n.d.; Literacy Teaching Guide: Phonics 2009; What is Phonics?, accessed on August 2021).

Figure 10: An example of text written with the use of Fidel spelling chart.

(Obtained from: https://www.pronunciationscience.com/materials/silent- way-for-english/. Accessed on 20 August 2021).


27 What usually helps the students of phonics is additional material for them to help construct the appropriate associations. These most often come in the form of workbooks – or decodable books with illustrations, games and a clear progression of phonic difficulty. The teacher can also use pictures (in the form of flashcards) or coloured phonograms (characters or symbols which are used to represent a phoneme, for example /eɪ/ or “ay” in “play”, “tray”, and “clay” – see Figure 11 for an example with /uː/).

Another thing which the phonics teaching method makes use of and is a great assessment of the students’ phonetic decoding progress, is reading of nonsense words. Shifting the focus onto different parts of a word is beneficial in teaching the students how various combinations of letters affect each other. Therefore, the children not only learn how to pronounce existing words, but also nonsense words, which can be valuable segments for creating and grasping new words and their pronunciation (cf. Birsh and Carreker 2018, 346, 865).

One such closely-connected important activity is called “chaining”, as Birsh and Carreker (2018) illustrate with an example of the activity’s instruction:

Provide a few colored chips (in a minimum of four different colors) for each student and give them a CVC word. Have them select a different colored chip for each sound in the word. Then, have them change the colored chip to represent a new word. For example, a chain at the initial word position might be, “Say hat and change the /h/ to

Figure 11: An example of a phonics’ teaching material – a flashcard involving a picture and red phongrams. (Obtained from: https://www.phonicbooks.co.uk/advice-and-resources/free- teaching-resources/one-sound-different-spellings/one-sound-different-spellings-oo/. Accessed on 20 August 2021).



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