By Rhonda Stone, M.P.A.
Read Right Communications & Training
Do you have a child, friend, or relative who reads poorly? Do you know what they’ve been through to try to learn to read?
Both of my children struggled with reading, and I can say first-hand that it is a little like being on a sinking ship. At first, teachers tell you not to worry because, as they say, “They’ll catch on.” As the ship sinks ever deeper, you desperately start searching for a life-ring–or, something that will work to keep them afloat. Method after method used by you or your children’s school doesn’t work. Finally, the children start fourth or fifth grade lost, far behind their peers, hating to read, and/or dismissing school as unimportant.
THIS is the problem: Two of the most common solutions to reading problems in the U.S. are (1) intensive and systematic phonics and decoding instruction and (2) the assumption that faster phonetic individual word recognition skill will solve the problem. Millions of students in the U.S. perceive the simple act of “naming” words as reading. It is not reading–it is word calling. “Reading” is the neuro-biological act of reconstructing a meaning-filled message from a symbol system. In English, the symbol system involves an alphabet and related sound/symbol clues, spacing clues, and punctuation. However, in Chinese or Japanese, the symbol system uses “logograms,” or miniature pictures that represent words and concepts. Despite the difference, individuals from all of these cultures can become successful readers IF they understand that the purpose of reading is to reconstruct an author’s meaning-filled message.
THIS is the solution: Acknowledge that over-emphasis on phonics, decoding, and individual word recognition can be the cause of reading problems. My grandson, age 6, is living proof (see the video above). Read Right methodology operates on an “operations theory” of reading that is far more complex than identifying individual words on a page. Here’s one of my favorite examples, first introduced to me by Read Right developer Dr. Dee Tadlock 20 years ago. Can you read this?
It is an actual word–and it’s something you use virtually every day of your life. If you talk in your sleep, you may use it. Yet, most people haven’t a clue how to pronounce the word, let alone what it means. Here’s the thing: you don’t need to know what it is or what it means, unless you are a language professor.
Possible pronunciations (spellings reconfigured for phonetic possibilities):
None is correct. Teaching a student to sound out words as the main event of reading creates all kinds of problems for the brain. In a world of languages, English is one of the most difficult to learn. The fact that English is a combination of up to seven languages creates more than 350 rules you’d need to memorize to pronounce every word in our language correctly. For the record, English is rooted in Cymraeg (old Welsh), other Gaelic dialects (notice the weird vowel combinations), German, Greek, plus Latin and other Latin-based languages (Spanish, French, and Italian)!
For example: the phrase “hors d’ oeuvres” is a phrase in English, but it is not pronounced “horse-duh-ooov-ress” (my family likes to say “horsy-doo-vers). It is French and the phonetic translation must switch to French and simply be: “Or-derves.” The literal meaning is: “outside the meal.”
Now, if you come upon the Latin-based “bilabialplosives” in text, how will you explain the word to your teenage student if you don’t know what it means? Merely sounding out the word will not produce its meaning, and there’s a significant chance you won’t pronounce it correctly the very first time you encounter it.
Pronunciation can be aided by knowing the word’s meaning: With bilabialplosives, you do it every single day–many times a day–when you say the sounds made by the letters “b” and “p.” Thus, if you talk in your sleep, you may be using bilabialplosives if you say “Ball Park.” Where do the b and p sounds come from? The two lips. And, what is different about b and p compared to other letters? We must burst air from between our lips to create both sounds.
So: Two lips (bi = two and labia = lips) and pushing air (plosives, similar to explosives). Therefore the correct pronunciation is bi–lay–bee–all–plo–sives.
Can you imagine a struggling reader encountering that word and attempting to sound it out? Doesn’t it make much more sense to enjoy a vocabulary lesson together (perhaps looking it up on the internet first) and exploring the meaning of the word along with its pronunciation before proceeding with the text?
Read Right reading tutors NEVER ask students to sound out a single word. Once the brain knows the 18 stable letters of the alphabet (each makes only one sound), it can begin to use letter clues anywhere on a page to READ, which occurs more efficiently when the reader anticipates the author’s language and meaning. When the reader encounters a new word, a vocabulary lesson needs to occur–NOT a phonics lesson.
I’m proud to share the video above because it tells the story of my daughter overcoming her reading problem as a teen, and her commitment, as an adult, to ensure her own children do not struggle with reading. Her oldest started reading at age 5 before starting kindergarten. The key: no one ever asked him to sound out a single word! He’s now 6 and reading at a 2nd grade level.
How did this happen? READ RIGHT methodology, grounded in an operations theory of reading development. It works for both reading remediation and reading development.
Thank you, Dr. Dee!