Auditory Rhythm and Reading Development in Chinese

Prof. Hsiao Lan Wang

National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan

Converging evidence across language and reading acquisition studies suggests that children’s sensitivity to rhythmic modulations within the linguistic stream is critical for both language and reading development. We therefore hypothesized that reading difficulties and phonological deficit may be associated with auditory processing problems of speech prosody. With respect to lexical prosody in Chinese Mandarin, there are four significant tones. Developmentally, Chinese children learn to perceive pitch variations at the syllable level as a reliable phonological cue. As a result, our studies look into the sensory bases of language related auditory perception in Chinese children, particularly focusing on the processing of frequency-modulated signals. In one study, we tested the influence of auditory frequency discrimination on Chinese children’s performance of reading abilities. Fifty participants from 3rd to 4th grades, including 24 children with reading difficulties and 26 age-matched children, were examined. A serial of cognitive, language, reading and psychoacoustic tests were administrated. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) was also employed to study children’s auditory sensitivity. Auditory frequency was measured through slide-up pitch, slide-down pitch and frequency-modulated tone. The results showed that children with Chinese reading difficulties were significantly poor at phonological awareness and auditory discrimination for the identification of frequency-modulated tone. Chinese children’s character reading performance was significantly related to lexical tone awareness and auditory perception of frequency-modulated tone. In short, we found a significant group difference in the MMNm while children processed frequency-modulated tones with slow temporal changes. The findings may imply that perception of sound frequency signals with slower temporal modulations was related to reading and language development in Chinese. Our study may also support the recent hypothesis of underlying non-verbal auditory temporal deficits accounting for the difficulties in literacy development seen in developmental dyslexia.

Research keywords : Educational neuroscience, Reading development and developmental dyslexia, MRI research in mental disorders