Seidenberg’s Bar Mitzvah example is obviously an extreme one – there are particular cultural reasons why Jewish boys are taught to decode Hebrew even if they don’t understand it. Such reasons don’t apply to ‘normal’ learning-to-decode situations, however. Children normally know a lot about the spoken form of the language before being taught to decode, so they are in a much better position to understand what they decode than are children learning to decode Hebrew for Bar Mitzvah purposes. In very transparent orthographies (e.g. Finnish) they can probably decode many words that they don’t yet understand orally, but they can also decode a lot of words that they do understand orally, and if their school reading material consists largely of such words, there is no reason why they shouldn’t understand it.Maizie wrote:Isn't he really just saying that it is perfectly possible to be able to 'say' words in an unfamiliar language by knowing the 'code' even without knowing what they mean? This seems to me to be utterly self evident and, at the same time, completely irrelevant to the debate about teaching reading. After all, one could equally well learn a number of foreign words as 'wholes' and also not know what they mean!
So in spite of his extreme Bar Mitzvah example, I don’t think that what Seidenberg is saying is ‘completely irrelevant to the debate about the teaching of reading’, even if the irrelevance charge can be levelled at some of the other people who talk about children ‘barking at print’.