A. van Staden1, M. Tumo1, A. Tolmie1, E. Vorster2, E. Swart2

1University of the Free State (SOUTH AFRICA)
2University of Stellenbosch (SOUTH AFRICA)
Second-language (L2) spelling proficiency has been a major area of difficulty for many English language learners. Drawing from Pavio’s (1971) dual coding theory, this study investigates the value of applying visual imagery techniques to enhance the spelling performance of Grade 4 English language learners in Lesotho, Southern Africa. Pavio’s theory holds that two separate and independent routes to storing and retrieving information, namely the phonological route and the orthographic route, are essential for spelling proficiency. This study focuses on how the orthographic route, that is the non-verbal language systems that deal with imagery and the storage of words in the ‘mental dictionary’, can be utilised to enhance the spelling performance of L2 children. This research forms part of a broader literacy project, entitled “Cognitive linguistic processing and literacy development of L1 and L2 children with typical and atypical patterns of development” and is funded by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) (grant number: 87728). In the present study Grade 4 L2 learners (N = 72) were purposively drawn from two primary schools in the Mafeteng district in Lesotho according to the following criteria: home language Sesotho; ages from 11 to 13 years; English as language of instruction; no additional cognitive impairments, neurological disorders or severe behavioural problems; and a discrepancy of at least two years between their chronological ages and the reading and spelling ages as measured by standardised South African measuring instruments. The study followed an experimental pre-test/post-test research design. The experimental group (N = 36) received small-group instruction from a qualified remedial teacher at one of the sample schools for a period of six months. The control group followed a rule-based and phonological approach to spelling development, presented by general classroom educators according to prescribed spelling curriculum. The experimental group were guided systematically to utilise their visual-spatial abilities to create visual images of high-frequency words from the reading series they used in the school. Post-test results demonstrated a significant improvement in spelling proficiency for the experimental group, with average spelling scores improving from 9 to 19 (statistical significance: t = 13.35; df = 70; p < .000; d = 0.67). Although findings from this case study cannot be generalised to all L2 learners, they do indicate that visual imagery can improve the spelling proficiency of L2 learners and be used in addition to rule-based and phonological strategies for spelling development. As we enhance our understanding of the nuances of implementing effective strategies to support L2 spelling development, results from the present study can play an important role in directing research into this under-researched aspect of L2 literacy development. Moreover, future research can investigate the efficacy of employing visual imagery as spelling strategy for L2 learners from diverse home language environments.