Extra-wide letter spacing could be a simple, efficient way to improve the reading ability of children with dyslexia and could encourage these kids to read, further improving those skills, a group of Italian and French researchers say.
When words are written with extra spaces between letters, children who have dyslexia are able to read them more quickly and accurately, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States shows.
In a study of about 100 Italian and French children with dyslexia, the children age 8 to 14 were asked to read 24 short sentences, some with standard spacing, the others with more spacing between words and letters. (See the second page of the study for an example of how different the spacing looked.) Examples: "The girl had a red backpack. The bottle is bigger than the fork. The star is above the circle." The sentences were unrelated so that the kids couldn't use context clues to aid their reading.
People with dyslexia are affected abnormally by "crowding," researchers said, in which individual letters are more difficult to identify when they are surrounded by other letters versus when they stand alone. So crowding makes recognizing letters difficult, but that recognition is the initial step to reading in all alphabetic languages. Extra spacing, the researchers found, provided the greatest benefit to children with the most trouble identifying letters.
Extra-wide letter spacing doubled students' text-reading accuracy and increased their reading speed by more than 20 percent.
Researchers said the increased spacing affects letter identification, and this process is thought to be identical across languages. Both French and Italian children in the study read better with extra spacing.