Understanding the neural systems that underpin reading acquisition is key if neuroscientific findings are to inform educational practice. We provide a unique window into these systems by teaching 19 adults to read 24 novel words written in unfamiliar letters and to name 24 novel objects while in an MRI scanner. Behavioral performance on trained items was equivalent for the two stimulus types. However, componential letter-sound associations were extracted when learning to read, as shown by correct reading of untrained words, whereas object–name associations were holistic and arbitrary. Activity in bilateral anterior fusiform gyri was greater during object name learning than learning to read, and ROI analyses indicated that left mid-fusiform activity was predictive of success in object name learning but not in learning to read. In contrast, activity in bilateral parietal cortices was predictive of success for both stimulus types but was greater during learning and recall of written word pronunciations relative to object names. We argue that mid-to-anterior fusiform gyri preferentially process whole items and contribute to learning their spoken form associations, processes that are required for skilled reading. In contrast, parietal cortices preferentially process componential visual–verbal mappings, a process that is crucial for early reading development.

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