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Three Processes Involved in Reading

Two women readingClick to expand

According to Harm et al. (2004), there are three components to the reading process: phonological, orthographic and semantic processing.

Phonological processing involves the breaking down of words into sounds. An example of this in English would be to break down the word bug into three sounds: /b/, /Λ/ and /g/. This skill is especially important for a person who is first learning to read.

Orthographic processing involves immediate word recognition. This kind of processing is used more frequently by skilled readers who no longer have to rely on phonological processing to read familiar words. An example of orthographic processing would be recognising the word ‘them’ by how it looks and not by having to sound it out.

Semantic processing is the accessing of the meaning of word being read. For example, understanding that the word ‘cow’ refers to a grass-eating animal with four legs.

These three processes work together to help a person comprehend written text (Harm et al., 2004).


Brain imaging technology has increased our understanding of which parts of the brain are responsible for different reading processes. Three areas in the left hemisphere of the brain are usually active when a typical adult reader is engaged in a reading task (Pugh et al. 2000, p. 209).

Lobes of brainClick to expand

Left anterior region Phonological processing for output (speech).

Left temporor-parietal region Phonological, orthographic and semantic processing (rule-based analysis of words).

Left occipito-temporal lobe Orthographic processing (whole word recognition).

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