I Can Read System

My child knows his letter sounds. Why can’t he read?

In most English-speaking countries, reading instruction begins as soon as a child develops the ability to be phonologically sensitive to the segmental sound system of English. This occurs at about four to five years of age Therefore, it is not unreasonable for primary teachers to expect Year 1 children to be able to read. But the reality is that many children won’t be fluent readers at that stage, and many of them will know little about phonological awareness, the alphabetic principal or blending strategies.

The reasons for this are:

  • Firstly, about twenty percent of children are phonologically insensitive. This means that cognitively, they don’t hear the separation of sounds in spoken words. 
  • Secondly, some children are learning to read English as a second language, and have become confused about processing sequences of sound-letters. If they have captured their first language by depending on cues, recall or other memory-dependent associations, they may try to learn to read English in the same way. 
  • Thirdly, a problem is bound to develop when instructional practices do not take into account how the brain processes information from sound to sight. 

A good example of poor instructional practice is in the misapplication of phonics.  We know the teaching of applied phonics is frequently applied incorrectly because many non-reading children actually know their phonics.  They can associate a letter ‘b’ with its common sound /buh/, but they are learning backwards!  The mistake occurs when the teacher shows the child the letters before correcting the child’s phonological (ability to access spoken sounds) skills.

These language skills need to develop before children learn to connect spoken sounds with their visual appearance in letters and words. When teachers introduce children to the letters of the alphabet first, before establishing phonological sensitivity, they mistakenly encourage the child to become dependent on visual recall or memory instead of linking the child’s appreciation of sounds and symbols through processing of sound to symbol.

Many teachers do not appreciate the significance of pre-reading skills, simply due to the way they themselves are trained through the current education system.

As parents, you can help prepare your children to learn to read, Here’s how:

  1. Encourage them to use vocabulary and read to them every day.
  2. Be patient and wait until the child is phonologically ready (usually after 3.5 years) before helping them to identify beginning spoken sounds.
  3. Avoid memory dependency by not using flash cards for phonetically regular words and not pointing to words and asking your children to remember them.
  4. Encourage them to love story time.
  5. Play the I Spy game after the age of 3.5 to 4 years to encourage your children to hear the first sounds in spoken words (use sounds only; not letter names). Start with easy continuous sounds, such as /ssss/ and /mmm/ (sun, monkey).
  6. Last, but not least, take them to a specialist reading centre like I Can Read so they can learn the right way!

If you’d like more information on what to look for when choosing the right reading programme for your child, read our blog entitled WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A READING PROGRAMME FOR YOUR CHILD