This research investigated the effects of prior knowledge on learning in psychologically-plausible connectionist networks. This issue was examined with respect to the benchmark orthography-to-phonology mapping task (Sejnowski & Rosenberg, 1986; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989). Learning about the correspondences between orthography and phonology is a critical step in learning to read. Children (unlike the networks mentioned above) bring to this task extensive knowledge about the sound-structure of their language. We first describe a simple neural network that acquired some of this phonological knowledge. We then summarize simulations showing that having this knowledge in place facilitates the acquisition of orthographic-phonological correspondences, producing a higher level of asymptotic performance with fewer implausible errors and better nonword generalization. The results suggest that connectionist networks may provide closer approximations to human performance if they incorporate more realistic assumptions about relevant sorts of background knowledge.