Debunking Common Reading Myths

There are a lot of myths surrounding reading, and it’s time to bring the truth to the fore and settle these reading myths for good!

 

Myth #1: We read naturally – Reading is a learned behavior. It needs to be taught with deliberate intention and understanding in order for someone to attain the result of reading comprehension. It is a complex process with systematic learning used in conjunction with a fluent reader as teacher. Assigning meaning to reading is the most difficult learning of all. Leaving a child to read on their own with no assistance will not result in their ability to read or comprehend.

 

Myth #2: Once is enough – For fluent reading, repetition is required. When a child is learning to read they are bringing letters, sounds, and words together. They bring this together having been guided (taught) by a role model, usually a parent or teacher. They then associate words together, learn punctuation, and add tone for fluency.  The mentor helps them learn to assign meaning to the words and phrases, which needs to then be committed to memory. In early childhood development this process takes repeated effort.

Like most skills that become natural, practice makes perfect. As adults we can look back and think this is simple, forgetting how long it took us to learn as an infant.

 

Myth #3: Children understand if they can tell you something about the story – Engagement of any sort is a positive step forward. However, the question and answer technique can prove to be limiting. It is critical not to assume a child has full comprehension of a text because he or she can answer one or two questions. Opening a true dialogue for discussion is better than a Q&A technique to understand if they have reading comprehension.

 

Myth #4: Fluent reading = good comprehension – This is a definite myth. Too often a parent thinks their child has good reading comprehension when in fact what they have is the ability to read the words on the page. The hardest step of all is to assign meaning and extract information from text. Many children have learned to ‘get away with it’ because their reading sounds fabulous, if not advanced.

 

Myth #5: The words are too hard for my children – No they are not. The active child brain is a great problem solver. Exposing children to difficult words will add to their vocabulary in the longer term.

 

Myth #6: Word lists work – This old-school teaching method required that students find the definitions of a list of words and learn them. Each week a new list arrived.  However, out of context this method of learning provides limited to no value for a child. Learning and development methods today realise that words in context are required to provide association, and to move them into short and then long-term memory.

 

Myth #7: There is no fun in learning words – Gamification of learning is one of the best ways to help children – and adults – learn. Scrabble, Pictionary, crossword puzzles etc. all bring fun into the learning environment. The more fun a child is having, the more likely they are to remember the principles of the lesson.

 

Myth #8: My child is a late reader, but I don’t have to worry – Not true. Studies have found that of the children struggling with reading in Year 1, around 88% will still be struggling in Year 3. The consequential impact can be debilitating as they fall behind and poor reading performance starts to impact other areas of their life. Losing confidence or being shamed takes its toll. Early intervention is required to ensure a child has no medical reason for a learning development problem e.g. ear infection, deafness etc. Most difficulties in a child’s reading are directly linked to a lack of understanding of phonemes and phonics.

 

The first three years of school will be the most critical, and what has occurred at home prior to this will set the foundation for childhood reading comprehension. If a child has not had reading experience at home, good teaching in these first three years can slowly overcome the impact of this but it can be a difficult road for your child.

Breaking Down The Reading Process

visually and auditory

Students in the classroom take in information in two primary ways, visually and auditory. Listening to a teacher talk is auditory information, and reading is visual information. As information is received, students are required to process it. They need to hold on to the details, follow the sequence, get the main idea and exercise higher order or critical thinking skills (including drawing conclusions, making inferences and making predictions). Then, to convey that this processing is happening, they need to talk or write about it by answering questions or having a conversation. 

The information coming in auditory (listening to the teacher) is called receptive oral language. Information coming in visually (through reading) is called receptive written language. The information going out is either expressive oral language (communicating by speaking) or expressive written language (communicating by writing). This is the learning process that is expected of students all day long in the classroom. Students are assessed by how well they are able to take in information and how well they are able to express their understanding, either orally or in written form.

 

Breaking Down the Reading Process

If we break down the receptive written language process (reading), we find that there are several parts of the brain functioning at the same time. Scientific studies have been conducted where people who are good readers have been given fMRI scans of their brains while reading. It was found that several areas of the brain were consistently lit up, including auditory, visual and language specific areas. The same scans were done on people who struggle with reading and it was found that one or more of those same areas of the brain were not lit up. This means that people who struggle with reading may have issues with auditory processing, visual processing or language processing, all of which are needed for decoding written language.

 

Auditory Processing/Phonemic Awareness

When we say auditory processing what we are really referring to is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to discern the sounds and sequence of sounds within a syllable or word. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound, usually represented by one letter (e.g. /t/). Phonemic awareness is slightly different from, but related to, phonics in that phonics teaches the sounds that correspond with each letter, or letter-sound association. Some students might know their phonetic alphabet, yet still have phonemic awareness issues. For example, they might know that the letter ‘l’ says /l/, but can they discern or hear the sound /l/ in the word ‘split’?

 

Decoding

Auditory processing or phonemic awareness issues affect decoding or what is sometimes called word attack. Word attack is what we do with a word we’ve never seen before. We need to separate the word into its phonemes, and then blend them all back together in the right sequence to read the whole word. This is called ‘segmentation’ and ‘blending’. A student with poor phonemic awareness and auditory processing may see the word ‘stream’ but read ‘steam’, omitting the sound /r/. If you point to the letter ‘r’ and ask what letter it is they’ll be able to tell you. Further, if you ask them what sound it makes, the student will also be likely to tell you /r/. But when you ask them to read the word again, they’ll still omit the sound /r/, because they don’t perceive that they’ve omitted that sound. The types of mistakes students with phonemic awareness issues include: 

  • Adding sounds that aren’t there – i.e. reading ‘sand’ for ‘sad’
  • Omitting sounds that are there – i.e. reading ‘steam’ for ‘stream’
  • Substituting sounds – i.e. reading ‘fell’ instead of ‘fill’
  • Switching sounds – i.e. reading ‘gril’ instead of ‘girl’

With phonemic awareness issues, students will inevitably resort to guessing within their vocabulary. So, for example, a student may see the word ‘complication’, but incorrectly switch letters in the middle syllable to ‘pil’. They therefore read the entire word as ‘com-pil-ca-tion’, and knowing that it isn’t a real word, they will guess a word they do know and may come up with ‘completion’ or ‘compilation’. Unless they have enough context to help them guess correctly, guessing will not only change the meaning of what they’ve read, it is also a lost opportunity for gaining new vocabulary. 

Another strategy students may attempt is to memorize every word. And as long as they have good visual processing skills, this will work well up until about 4th or 5th grade, when curriculum and vocabulary begin to get more sophisticated with more multi-syllabic words. Poor word attack skills at both the single and multi-syllabic level will slow down a student’s reading, thereby causing them to lose or forget information they’ve already read. So often we see students who on the outset have “comprehension” issues, when really their comprehension is being affected by their decoding errors, especially at the multi-syllabic level. 

 

Visual Processing/Sight Word Recognition

In order to develop fluency when reading, we begin to recognize words by sight, which means we don’t need to decode words every time we see them. Rather, we can recognize whole words and even phrases by sight. The way this memorization works is that we see a word a few times and it gets imprinted in the visual processing part of our brain. Then, when we see the word again, we have something to compare it to and that is how we recognize it. 

Students with visual processing issues have a difficult time with word recognition and memorization. The way this shows up is that a student will read a word in a paragraph but when they see the very same word even as soon as the very next sentence, it is like they’ve never seen it before. For a typical reader it takes 10-20 exposures to a word before it is recognized effortlessly, but for people with visual processing issues it may take more like 50 to 100 exposures.

Poor sight word recognition slows down reading fluency, because more often students are needing to sound out, or decode, a word. When reading speed is too slow, comprehension is affected because information is forgotten. Poor sight word recognition and visual processing also impacts the way a student spells, because without that visual representation in their mind of how a word should look, they have no way of self-correcting.

Sight word recognition is the basis behind the rote learning approach to teaching reading which is a memorization technique based on repetition. The downside of strictly memorizing words is that when a student gets to a word they’ve never seen before, especially long words, with no one to tell them what the word sounds like they may not have adequate word attack skills to figure it out for themselves.

 

Language Processing

When we’re reading text, there is a context to what we are reading. Understanding that context can help us self correct when we misread something. For example, if we read, “The dog ran out of the horse” we would know that this doesn’t make sense because of our vocabulary and the context. We infer that the word ‘horse’ should be ‘house’, thereby self-correcting. Essentially we are using our vocabulary and the context of what we are reading to help us read, which is fine if we only stumble over one or two words. 

This is the basis for the whole language approach to teaching reading. Whole language focuses on meaning and strategy instruction. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you read every single word correctly or not as long as you are getting the meaning. The problem with this approach is that if students are not recognizing several words because of poor sight word recognition, or they can’t sound out words because of poor word attack skills, there isn’t enough understanding of the context to help them self correct and their comprehension will be seriously compromised.

 

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly and with good prosody. This in turn aids our ability to focus on the reason we read which is understanding or comprehension. It is clear that reading fluency is optimized when auditory, visual and language processing skills are all used simultaneously. When we have good word attack skills, can quickly recognize sight words, and can use our vocabulary and the context to help us, we are on our way to fluent reading. 

 

Another Important Element In Reading – The English Language

Along with all the processing needed to be able to read, there is another element – the difficulty of the English language itself. English is difficult to learn to read because many words are not pronounced the way they are spelled, and there are many exceptions as there are spelling rules. 

Find out how Readable English develops the key reading skills while addressing the underlying issues of the English language.

Are You Sure You Know How To Spell?

How often do you question your ability to spell? And do you question if you got it right, but then not bother to check?

There are some common mistakes that people tend to make when spelling, and we’ve decided to clarify a few of them here.

To vs Too vs TwoTo is often used in conjunction with a verb or as a preposition, e.g. I was going to be late.

Too means to be in addition, e.g. I ate too much?

Two is the written form of the number 2, e.g. I need two ice creams.

Lose vs LooseLose is when something you have is gone e.g. it was sad to lose my job.

Loose is something that has a lot of room around it, e.g. my pants are very loose since I lost all that weight.

Weird vs Wierd – It is weird to spell weird, weirdly. The reason for this is that most people apply the widely-known rule of ‘i before e except after c’. Weird is one of the exceptions to this rule, but it’s still a common mistake.

Chose vs Choose – Choose is the present tense of the verb ‘to choose’, e.g. you often hear children asking each other “which lollies will you choose?”

Chose is the past tense of ‘to choose’, e.g. he chose to stay behind and look for his dog because it had gone missing.

Seize vs Sieze vs CeaseSeize means to take or grab e.g. they went to seize his passport when he got caught smuggling drugs. This is another exception to the ‘i before e except after c’ rule.

Cease means to halt or stop something, e.g. they were going to cease operations when the summer was over.

Effect vs Affect – The general rule is that effect is a noun, e.g. the effect was mesmerising.

Affect is a verb, e.g. his absence was affecting everyone’s ability to finish the project on time.

Definitely not Definately – There is definitely no “a” in definitely.

Weather vs Whether – One describes the weather outside when it is raining, sunny, stormy or hailing etc.

The other whether is used to describe a decision or comparison, e.g. I wasn’t sure whether to have salmon or beef for dinner.

Then vs ThanThen is used when writing about time, e.g. we went to the shops and then out for lunch.

Than is used to compare objects, e.g. his car had better fuel consumption than mine.

Moot vs Mute – This is a common mistake that makes people cringe when they hear or read it. The saying is “it’s a moot point”, not “it’s a mute point.

A moot point is up for debate or discussion because there is something unclear about the impact of it.

A mute point would technically be no point at all because mute means to turn off, refrain from speaking or muffle sound, or someone who is unable to speak.

Rein vs Reign vs Rain – As a noun, a rein is the strap that is attached to a horse’s bit. E.g. the rein on the horse still had to be tightened. As a verb, rein means to guide a horse by pulling the reins, e.g. he reined in his horse.

To reign is to hold office or rule as a monarch, e.g. the king held reign over England.

Rain is what falls from the sky, e.g. I can see the rain falling from the clouds.

Three examples in spelling that indicate contraction and possession:

Their, They’re and ThereThey’re is a contraction of ‘they are’, e.g. they’re late again. Their shows possession, e.g. I have their best interest at heart.

There is used when referring to a destination or an idea, e.g. I am going over there to buy a coffee.

It’s vs Its – The two rules here are that when you contract the words ‘it is’ you use it’s, e.g. it’s a pain to drive you home from work every night.

When you indicate possession you use its, e.g. its body was long, white, and powerful.

The reason this is confusing is because usually to indicate possession an apostrophe is used, e.g. the dog’s bone.

You’re vs Your – The two rules here again show contraction or possession.

You’re is used to shorten ‘you are’, e.g. You’re terrible.

The second example of your is the possession, e.g. your dog ate my dinner.

4 Common Writing Mistakes ESL Students Make

Everyone makes a few mistakes when learning to write English as a second language, and there are four errors that the majority of ESL learners make (even native English speakers are guilty of these).

Learning to spot and correct these mistakes will help your writing look more polished and natural.

 

1) Misuse of Articles

An article is a word that combines with a noun to show what reference is being made by the noun. There are only three articles in the English language: “a,” “an,” and “the.” There are two types of articles: indefinite and definite.

‘A’ and ‘an’ are indefinite articles. These are used when referring to anything that is not specific or known to either the reader or the writer. Indefinite articles are also used when referring to a noun for the first time in a sentence.

  • ‘A’ precedes nouns that begin with a consonant sound (e.g. a ball). Another example is that even though the word ‘university’ begins with a vowel, the ‘u’ sounds like a ‘y’, and since /y/ is a consonant sound you would say ‘a university’.
  • ‘An’ precedes nouns that begin with a vowel sound (e.g. an orange). Another example is that even though the word ‘hour’ begins with a consonant ‘h’, it is a vowel sound so it would be referred to as ‘an hour’.

‘The’ is a definite article, and is placed before a noun or adjective that is known to both the reader and the writer. It is also used when referring to something familiar to everyone in the conversation, e.g. when playing basketball, you would ask your friend to ‘pass me the ball’ instead of ‘pass me a ball’, because you all know that there is only one ball being used.

‘The’ can be used before a noun anytime after it has first been introduced with ‘a’ or ‘an’. E.g. Sam bought a hat while on vacation. He then wore the hat on his flight home.

‘The’ can be used in front of a singular or plural noun (e.g. ‘the bird’ and ‘the birds’), and in front of an adjective (‘the beautiful bird’ and ‘the beautiful birds’.)

 

2) Incorrect Capitalization

The first letter of the first word of every sentence should be capitalized, and the use of ‘I’ as a pronoun is always capitalized no matter where it appears in the sentence.

Common nouns such as ‘dog’, ‘car’, or ‘hat’ should not be capitalized unless they are part of a title or are at the start of a sentence.

Proper nouns are capitalized as well. A proper noun is more specific than a noun, and gives the real name of the person, place, or thing. They include:

  • Holidays e.g. Christmas
  • Books e.g. War and Peace
  • Companies e.g. Microsoft
  • Religions e.g. Hinduism
  • Languages e.g. Chinese
  • Institutions e.g. Oxford University
  • Titles e.g. Prime Minister
  • Names e.g. Sarah
  • Geographical areas e.g. Queensland, Australia.

 

3) Poor Punctuation

Punctuation marks include commas (,), periods (.), apostrophes (‘), question marks (?), exclamation marks (!), colons (:), and semi colons (;).

Punctuation marks always come immediately after the last letter of a word and are followed by a space. E.g. We went to a movie, followed by a late dinner; I had the steak and my date had the pasta. It was delicious!

  • The comma (,) is used to separate different grammatical components of a sentence, and is also used to sometimes indicate a pause in a sentence if it was spoken out loud.
  • The period (.) is used to signify the end of a particular sentence.
  • An apostrophe serves three purposes in the English language:
  • To show possession of a noun, e.g. the woman’s hat.
  • As a plural indicator for words ending in ‘s’, e.g. the boys’ night out.
  • In contracted words to show where a letter/s are missing, e.g. do not to don’t.
  • A question mark is used to show that a question has been asked, e.g. Why use a question mark?
  • An exclamation mark is used to signify excitement or or to show an interjection, e.g. Amazing!

 

4) Improper Order of Adjectives 

An adjective is a word that describes a noun, e.g. ‘purple flower’ or ‘nice house’. Adjectives are always placed before the noun, not after.

There are eight different types of adjectives for describing a noun: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, and purpose. This is also the order they must be listed in when describing a noun. E.g.

  • ‘The cute (opinion), small (size), young (age), fat (shape), gray (color), mountain (origin), furry (material), therapy (purpose) rabbit is popular with the children at the hospital’.
  • ‘The big, gray horse’ is correct. ‘The gray, big horse’ is incorrect.
  • ‘The cute, young puppy’, as opposed to ‘the young, cute puppy.’

This is one that even native English speakers commonly misuse. In fact, not many even know the proper order of the types of adjectives other than as an instinctual use of the terms. Memorize the correct order as they are supposed to appear, and you will be miles ahead of them.

 

Be on the lookout for these common errors in your ESL writing, and you’ll be a pro at correcting them in no time!

Can Teaching Aids Help Students to Learn English?

To teach any language course, there must be five main components; students, a teacher, teaching materials, teaching methods, and some form of evaluation. Teaching materials include all kinds of resources that can be used to get the information across to the students, from traditional textbooks to a whole range of supplementary aids, including video and audio tapes, visual aids, computer software and games, to name a few.

Teachers will also use a selection of evaluation tools to check and assess learning, and provide feedback to the students. With such a great range of teaching aids available, never before has there been so many options for creative language learning, so there’s no longer any need for teachers to stick to the old fashioned method of only using a textbook.

When a teacher is making a decision about the kind of teaching aids to use in their classroom, they are usually faced with several options, from choosing a suitable published course, adapting an existing course, or making their own aids. While many courses still rely on the tried and tested method of delivering lessons with set textbooks as the basis of their language programme, teachers will usually adapt the content to make it more personal to their particular students by using teaching aids that have been commercially produced, produced by the institution in which they are teaching, or even by the teacher themselves.

A number of benefits have been identified for using teaching aids to supplement textbook learning, the main benefits of which are listed below.

  • Teaching aids make lessons more enjoyable, and encourage learners to participate more

By using a range of teaching aids, such as audio and video tapes, online news broadcasts, flash cards or computer software programs, learners are encouraged to immerse themselves in the language rather than just see the language as a subject to be learned from a book.

  • Teaching aids can be easily adapted to meet the needs of specific students

Sometimes the content of a course textbook will need to be modified as it’s not well suited to the current learners, perhaps because of their age, gender or their religious, social or cultural background. By choosing to use teaching aids to supplement textbook learning, the course can be more easily revised or adapted as the need arises.

In addition, aids can also be adapted to address the specific needs of a particular group of learners, such as helping learners who are experiencing problems with pronunciation.

  • It’s easy to expand the course or add additional material

Sometimes it may be necessary to expand on the course content contained in textbooks. When this happens, supplementary materials can be very useful, especially to provide additional practice to improve grammar, vocabulary or to enable the students to become more familiar with taking certain kinds of tests, such as multiple choice questions.

  • Aids can enable the teacher to link the lesson to the locality

Most textbooks are very generic. However, by using teaching aids teachers can modify the lessons to reflect the locality and its particular concerns and issues, making them of more relevance to the students.

  • Content can be easily re-organised

Rather than follow the exact syllabus in a course book, teaching aids give the teacher the opportunity to reorganise the order in which the course is delivered, and to arrange it in a more suitable sequence for their particular students. Equally, the teacher may choose to substitute some of the learning activities of a particular unit with some of their own, based on the teaching aids they have available to them.

  • Tasks can be modified

Teachers may want to modify some of the exercises and activities contained in traditional textbooks. For example, a listening activity can be created very easily using audio or video tapes, which the student can then download onto their computers or smartphones. These listening activities can be used in different ways to focus on a different aspect each time, or they can be used for personal practice.

  • The teaching aids can be made to be more directly relevant to the needs of the students

Teaching aids which are produced by a specific language institution or by the teacher themselves are more likely to be directly relevant to their students’ needs. Such aids are more likely to reflect local content, issues and concerns, while helping the staff who deliver the lessons to develop a greater understanding of what makes an effective learning aid.

While many text books can be used without the need for adaptation, most learners find it beneficial to have access to a range of learning mediums when learning a foreign language. By using teaching aids, it’s possible to give the students a more realistic experience of learning a language, thus helping them to acquire fluency much more quickly.

 

Get Ready for Your ESL Test with These 7 Study Tips

Studying for an exam or test can be intimidating, particularly if you’re an ESL student. Taking a test in another language is tough, but luckily there are plenty of ways to make sure that you really  know the material for the exam. Teaching yourself how to study and building good study habits are some of the best investments you can make, as we’re learning every single day.

Here are our 7 most helpful study tips.

1. Create a study plan and stick to it

When you’re facing something intimidating, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and useless. One of the easiest ways to get around this is by breaking everything down into smaller tasks, and the same thing works with studying. Break down everything you need to know into manageable study periods, and you’ll be able to accomplish everything you need to do before the exams.

Use a calendar to create day plans for studying, and make sure you stick to them. Habits are only created through repeated action.

2. Reward good work

When studying, it’s important to take breaks and give yourself a reward. If you know that you have a snack or a video at the end of the work period, you’ll find yourself motivated to work harder so you can finish the job and get the reward sooner.

This simple trick will help turn you into a studying machine. And if you keep your snacks healthy, you’ll be learning and taking care of yourself at the same time.

3. Use a timer

One of the more popular time management methods is called the Pomodoro technique. This method requires you to use a kitchen timer and work hard for 25 minutes. At the end of the work period, you can reset the timer for 5 minutes worth of free time, which acts like a reward. These 30 minute periods also work well with dividing your time between tasks.

4. Avoid distraction

This is the number one thing to avoid when studying. Distractions like cell phones, Facebook, television, and your friends can really hurt your work and studying efforts. It’s important to separate your study time and social life so you can get work done. So turn off all your devices, find a neutral location like a library, and get studying.

5. Answer practice questions

If your exam is question based, then you may be able to get practice versions of your tests. By working your way through mock and past exams, you’ll be able to see what kind of questions they are able to ask and how they want you to answer them. You’ll also be able to see what you need to work on.

6. Study with a group

If you’re struggling to keep yourself accountable, why not try studying in a group? If you’re all working on the same subject, you can discuss ideas, ask questions, and test each other’s skills. However, you do have to make sure that you’re with people committed to actually studying, otherwise you’ll find yourself easily distracted and off topic quickly.

7. Study tools

Make use of some of the best study tools available. For example, when learning English definitions you could create flash cards that have the word on one side and the definition on the other. Shuffle the cards and then work your way through them, pronouncing the words, defining them and then checking your answers. It’s the perfect way to memorise words and phrases.

When recapping subjects, chapters and lessons, create a summary page. A summary page is where you summarise everything that you learned during that period with only the need to know information. This way you’ll have a reduced amount of learning to do as you’ll only need to memorise the important things on the page.

So remember to study hard and make sure you do well on your tests and exams. Follow our study tips above and stick to a plan, and you’ll be doing well in no time!

 

Stress and the Flight-or-Fight Response

The body uses many instinctive mechanisms designed to keep us alive. One of the most impressive is the ability to quickly become supercharged in times of extreme danger. Our ancestors would have regularly dealt with life-threatening situations, like being attacked by a large animal, and would have benefited greatly from this survival mechanism.

When our brain detects danger, it floods the body with a hormone called cortisol. This generally prompts the body to respond in one of three ways: we attack (fight), we run away (flight) or we remain completely still (freeze). These days we don’t come across life-threatening situations all that often, but the brain isn’t good at differentiating between sensations linked to an extreme physical threat and sensations linked to an extreme emotional threat. When we experience stress, shame, fear, anger and other negative emotions, our brain can interpret this as extreme danger. 

Everyone knows that strong emotional reactions can pop up in any situation, including the learning setting. A student might feel intimidated and afraid if a task is too difficult, embarrassed if a mistake is made in front of the class or frustrated if a new concept is hard to understand. They might even become enraged if they put effort into a learning task and still can’t grasp it.

Any of these experiences can trigger a flood of cortisol throughout the body. While this mechanism enables fast, effective action when there’s no time to stop and think, it produces an utterly ineffective response when the exact opposite is needed. In this state, taking the time to stop and think clearly is very hard to do. Research shows that high levels of cortisol can impede our ability to learn.

When a student finds it difficult to read, they’re likely to experience emotional distress. This can produce a stress reaction before a class has even started, further hindering the capacity to learn, and a vicious cycle forms that stops some students from learning to read. They fall further behind their peers and catching up can seem an impossible task.

It’s crucial to structure learning experiences in a way that avoids triggering this unhelpful cortisol reaction. Given the inconsistencies and complexities of the English language, and given struggling readers might have low self-esteem around their reading ability, it’s no simple task to support students toward becoming fluent readers without activating a stressful response.

This is an excerpt from a short book written by the founders of Readable English, Ann Fitts and Chris Stephen, titled “Readable English: Why Learning To Read English Is So Hard And How To Make It Easier”. You can access the entire book from the Readable English website.  

Erratic English Spelling

English is a patchwork language, full of words adopted from people who conquered Britain and people who Britain conquered. It’s heavily influenced by Greek and Latin vocabulary, embraces new words coined all the time and includes a multitude of words absorbed from myriad sources. As the language expanded, new phonemes were added that had to be represented using the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet.

In the English language, 14 letters of the alphabet represent one sound only. The other 12 letters can represent up to seven different sounds each. Take the letter ‘u’: it’s used to represent the sounds /uh/ (as in ‘up’), /yoo/ (as in ‘use’), /oo/ (as in ‘put’), /oo/ (as in ‘fruit’), /ih/ (as in ‘busy’), /w/ (as in ‘quick’) and /eh/ (as in ‘bury’).

Traditional Latin languages such as Italian and Spanish are phonetic: they have a corresponding number of phonemes and letters. A reader can look at a word written in Italian or Spanish and know how to say it. 

English isn’t phonetic. It has almost twice as many phonemes (between 42 and 45) as letters (26), depending on the definition of a phoneme (for example, some people consider the long ‘a’ sound, /ay/, a singular phoneme, while others consider it comprises two existing phonemes, /eh/ and /ih/). In English, there’s little correspondence between how words are spelt and how they’re spoken.

English spelling contains two-way ambiguity. First, many phonemes can be spelt in multiple ways. For example, the long /ee/ sound in ‘me’ can be spelt ‘e’, ‘ey’, ‘ee’, ‘ei’, ‘ea’, ‘i’, ‘ie’ or ‘y’. This kind of ambiguity results in words that are spelt differently but sound exactly the same (homophones). For example, ‘steel’ and ‘steal’, ‘ate’ and ‘eight’, ‘night’ and ‘knight’.

Second, many letters and letter combinations can represent multiple phonemes. For example, the letter ‘a’ represents its standard phoneme /a/ (as in ‘at’) plus at least four other phonemes (as in ‘ate’, ‘wash’, ‘any’ and ‘about’). This ambiguity results in different words that are spelt the same way but pronounced differently (homographs). For example, ‘bow’ represents three words, two rhyming with ‘cow’ and the other with ‘show’.

Homographic ambiguity is common in English and particularly challenging for emerging readers. It means there’s more than one way to decode a word, which can lead to all kinds of errors when reading.

Pairs of letters, or digraphs, such as ‘ou’ and ‘th’ are also used to represent some of the extra phonemes in speech. Again, there are multiple ways to pronounce digraphs, which adds further complexity to written English. Although some spelling patterns help with learning pronunciation, there are many more exceptions.

Different pronunciations of ‘ough’

And that’s not all. English applies segments of sound or speech (syllables) inconsistently as well, reflecting patterns that have evolved over time. Anyone who has studied Shakespeare might guess correctly that the word ‘converged’ was once pronounced with three syllables, and only uses two in Modern English. But how would an emerging reader know that ‘converged’ has two syllables while ‘converted’ has three?

The English language is also full of letters that are silent in some words but spoken in similar contexts, like the letter ‘g’ in ‘sign’ (silent) and ‘signature’ (spoken). It would be impossible for an emerging reader to predict how ‘chasm’, ‘know’, ‘debt’ and ‘thought’ are pronounced without guidance.

Conventional methods of learning English involve students memorizing multiple rules and thousands of exceptions just to be able to read everyday words. For those who struggle with reading for any reason, these inherent complexities cause great difficulties.

This is an excerpt from a short book written by the founders of Readable English, Ann Fitts and Chris Stephen, titled “Readable English: Why Learning To Read English Is So Hard And How To Make It Easier”. You can access the entire book from the Readable English website.  

7 Strategies to Help Teenagers with Reading

7 Strategies to Help Teenagers with Reading

The ability to read well is one of the most critical factors in a teen’s success. Reading is a necessary skill in order to grasp almost any subject in school, and without this skill they are likely to fall severely behind.

Use the following techniques and exercises to help those students who are struggling with their reading comprehension.

IDENTIFY WHY THEY’RE STRUGGLING

In order to help them overcome their reading barriers, it’s important to pinpoint where they are encountering difficulties. First, have your teen read aloud. Notice if they get stuck on certain words, such as words with multiple syllables.

If they can read aloud without a struggle, perhaps the issue lies in comprehension, understanding context, or concentration.

HELP THEM DECODE THE WORDS

Decoding words means breaking them up into shorter, more understandable chunks. If they’re stumbling over multisyllabic words, such as fashionable, teach them to break the word down into individual syllables.

For example, misunderstanding would be pieced into five syllables: /mis/ /un/ /der/ /stand/ /ing/. Easily reading larger words begins with them sounding out and separating the words into smaller parts. Practice with a piece of text that includes a lot of multisyllabic words, or with a list of common multisyllabic words, e.g. personality, denominator, questionable, anniversary, etc.

Here you can find a helpful list of over 290 multisyllabic words for practice at home.

CLUE THEM INTO THE CONTEXT

One of the keys to understanding what a word means is searching for context clues surrounding the word. E.g. ‘There was a big misunderstanding about which homework assignment to do. Some people did the assignment from page 8, while others did the assignment from page 9’.

‘Misunderstanding’ is the unknown word in this sentence. If we look at the context clues surrounding the word, we can see that not everybody did the same assignment. Therefore, we can guess that misunderstanding could relate to confusion.

HAVE THEM TAKE NOTES

Notes are helpful for anyone struggling with comprehension and memory. Suggest that your teen record the main events or points of a story, and have them pause every couple of pages to summarise and review the story by re-telling it or writing it down.

If the text is educational, such as a textbook, taking notes will help them focus and process the information instead of allowing them to skim the material without absorbing it.

Frequent reviewing of what they’re reading, as well as taking notes, will help in comprehension and understanding.

ENCOURAGE CONCENTRATION

Perhaps your teen is having trouble concentrating because what they’re reading while learning to read is just not interesting enough for them. If this is the case, then it helps to use materials that are relevant to their lives or that are exciting for them to learn about. E.g. if they’re into sports, have them hone their reading skills by using sports-related materials.

If the content is about a subject that engages them, they will be much more likely to concentrate on decoding the words and learning what they mean.

INVEST IN A PROFESSIONAL TUTOR OR READING PROGRAM

We say hire a professional or invest in a reading program because having someone or a program with a proven track record of helping people improve their reading skills can save both you and your teen time and frustration. A professional tutor has experience in teaching others, and will know the most useful techniques for transforming your teen into a proficient reader. Look for someone who is part of a tutoring organisation, or a program that comes with endorsements and reviews.

The most important part of teaching your teen to read is to understand which learning strategies they benefit the most from, and tailoring their reading practice around those. Everyone learns in a slightly different way, so get creative and find out how your teen learns best.