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The Sounds and Reading

Reading involves the ability to pronounce words (silently in one’s head) quickly and accurately and to read unknown words by decoding them. In alphabetic languages like English, readers link the letters (written units that represent sounds, like c or ck) to the phonemes (sounds of a language, e.g., /k/). This happens in two ways. One way involves attention to letters. That is, readers link letters to phonemes, as in cat. This mapping letters to phonemes is decoding, phonics, or sometimes called “sounding out.” The other way readers connect letters to the sounds is through whole-word or sight recognition. This occurs when a reader has encountered a printed word previously and has memorized the pronunciation. Most developing readers will rely on both sight memory and decoding, but all new words must be decoded, so learning to read is highly dependent on a reader’s ability to decode words accurately. This demands phonemic awareness, the ability to hear the different sounds.


Some native English-speaking children have problems with decoding. It is the biggest problem with learning to read among native English speaking children. Dr. Usha Goswami, the Director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at Cambridge, has this to say:

…the way in which the brain represents the sound-structure of spoken language -phonology – is critical for the future development of literacy. The brain develops phonological ‘representations’ in response to spoken language exposure and learning to speak, and the quality of these phonological representations determines literacy acquisition. (Emphasis added)


Children learn to read based on the way the language is represented in their brain, their phonology. She is talking about British children who have problems reading. That is her specialty, but isn’t it obvious how this would apply to all non-native children learning to read English? Teaching a Japanese child that “r” represents the sound in “road” and the letter “l” represents the sound in “load,” is not helpful if they cannot distinguish the sounds. And, of course, they can’t.


The good news is that children can learn to distinguish the sounds.


And that is what b4does!

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One Response to The Sounds and Reading

  1. Jim, you’ve left me on pins and needles! Are you going to tell us in your next post what “B4” is?

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