In a group of adult dyslexics word reading and, especially, word spelling are predicted more by what we have called lexical learning (tapped by a paired-associate task with pictures and written nonwords) than by phonological skills. Nonword reading and spelling, instead, are not associated with this task but they are predicted by phonological tasks. Consistently, surface and phonological dyslexics show opposite profiles on lexical learning and phonological tasks. The phonological dyslexics are more impaired on the phonological tasks, while the surface dyslexics are equally or more impaired on the lexical learning tasks. Finally, orthographic lexical learning explains more variation in spelling than in reading, and subtyping based on spelling returns more interpretable results than that based on reading. These results suggest that the quality of lexical representations is crucial to adult literacy skills. This is best measured by spelling and best predicted by a task of lexical learning. We hypothesize that lexical learning taps a uniquely human capacity to form new representations by recombining the units of a restricted set.