The Lexercise games are challenging! Why are the sounds and words so fast?

When children (and even adults!) play the Lexercise games for the first time they sometimes comment that the words and sounds are "too fast" or that they are "hard to understand".  Why would the words in these games, which are designed to improve language processing, be difficult to understand? 

The speech speed in the games may seem fast because we aren’t used to listening to isolated words out of context or formal definitions that we have to match to printed words.  Speech in real life is so fast that it is measured in milliseconds, but we aren't aware of that because, in real life, we almost always have A LOT of context to help us process.

When someone says, "I worked up a sweat!" we don't struggle to decide if they said, “sweator "swept”  because the context of the sentence makes that clear.  In the game Isolator and all the MatchStar games all the words and sounds are human speech, recorded by a professional in a sound lab, measured at a normal speaking rate, but--without a sentence context-- the words can definitely be hard to process. 

The Isolator and MatchStar games provide practice listening to the speech sound structure of words. Reading and spelling requires accurate processing of the internal sound structure of words.  For example, while sweat ends with a single consonant, /t/, swept ends with two consonants in rapid succession: /p/-/t/. Both words have 5 letters but sweat has 4 speech sounds (s-w-ea-t) while swept has 5 speech sounds (s-w-e-p-t). 

In the Descriptor game the definition is spoken in computerized speech.  We wanted to use computerized speech in one of the games to provide users some experience with it. Since the syntax of the definition helps the processing of the meaning, this game seemed like a good match for computerized speech.  But processing a definition in computerizes speech can be a listening challenge at first!  After all, when a child asks his mom, "What does 'sweat' mean?” she normally does not say,  "to excrete (perspiration, moisture, etc.) through the pores of the skin”!

Because there are so many context cues in everyday speech we may not notice when someone is having troubles with auditory processing. But we know from research that trouble processing sentences and phrases and/or words can disrupt the smooth development of reading and spelling.

The good news is, we know from neuroscience that frequent, structured practice connects the brain's literacy centers. Lexercise provides a systematic and cumulative way to improve brain processing for reading, spelling and writing. The explicit and orderly way that sound-letter pairs are introduced in Lexercise makes the structure of English words rational, while the intensive practice improves accuracy and speed of processing.

The words used in Lexercise are recorded in two formats:  conversational speech and clear speech.  The first presentation of a word in the game Isolator, for example, is spoken in conversational speech. If the player does not respond correctly, the second (and third) presentations are in clear speech. Clear speech is not slowed-up since slowing up the pronunciation of a word distorts the vowel; rather, clear speech is enunciated speech, with the low pressure consonants enunciated, so they are more audible.  Clear speech has been used successfully for years in deaf education and in teaching English as a second language. More recently, clear speech has been shown to help children with learning disabilities.

The Lexercise games are designed to be a listening challenge because research shows that processing skills improve faster when the task is challenging (Amitay, Irwin, & Moore, 2006; Linn & Bjork, 2006).  Of course, the challenge needs to be correctly adjusted for the individual. If it is TOO hard it will feel overwhelming. Usually, after several days of practice children (and adults, too) begin to improve their processing skills and find that listening is easier.  But, if the games are too hard, the Lexercise clinician can make adjustments that will help build a bridge to mastery.

Here is some ideas for what you might say to express admiration for the effort and hard work it takes to practice the games daily: Talking to Kids 

Complimenting effort and hard work has a powerful impact on task persistence.

Don't forget those headphones!



Amitay, S., Irwin, A., & Moore, D. R. (2006). Discrimination learning induced by training with identical stimuli. Nature Neuroscience, 9, 1446-1448.
Linn, M. C. and Bjork, R.A. (2006). The Science of Learning and the Learning of Science: Introducing Desirable Difficulties, The Association for Psychological Science: The Observer, Vol. 19 (3).




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