Why English is Hard to Read

Why English is Hard to Read

Do English speakers know English is hard to read for many people?

Do you know anyone who is struggling to read English?

  • A child or teenager desperately hiding their lack of literacy skills.
  • An apprentice who is finding the course he is studying difficult because he can’t read.           
  • A university student struggling to read course texts.
  • A small businessman who is skilled with his hands but relies on his wife to run his business.
  • Someone with English as their second language. Are they struggling with reading English?
  • Someone diagnosed with dyslexia

Many people find English hard to read despite speaking it well.

It is estimated that at least one-third of English-speaking school leavers are functionally illiterate.

A person who is functionally illiterate:

  • does not have the reading and writing skills to cope with daily living and employment tasks.
  • they are not illiterate because they can read simple sentences in the language they speak.

A functionally literate person:

  • has the reading ability of a nine-and-a-half-year-old child.
  • this is the fourth-grade level
  • their basic skills are established but the reading comprehension skills are undeveloped.

The inability to read is emotionally devastating.

The following statistics are for English speakers unable to read.

The United States: 1 in 7 adults

Great Britain: 1 in 4 adults

Canada: 42% of adults

Australia: 47% of adults

New Zealand:  40% of adults

The social cost for functional illiteracy is high.

  • 60 % of prisoners are estimated to be functionally illiterate. They read at or below the fourth-grade level.
  • Juveniles in detention have a higher rate. Estimated to be 85%

English is the third most spoken language in the world today after Mandarin and Spanish.

This has happened for historical reasons.

English is the common language for business and diplomacy.

It is the most difficult of all the alphabetical languages to read and write.

Why is English So Hard to Read?

  • The complexity of the English Alphabetic Code is a major cause of reading failure.     
  • Reading is a complex skill that must be taught step by step.
  • Mastering the letter-sound relationships (at least 70 for fluent reading) is essential.
  • Whole Language instruction where the look of words has been emphasized has been responsible for many children failing to learn to read.
  • The Alphabetic Principle that letters or groups of letters stand for sounds in words has not been taught systematically.

If a struggling reader does not know how to sound out words they cannot read.

The main reason why English is hard to read is confusing spelling

  • Finland is praised for its education system compared with those of the English-speaking countries.
  • Finish children can learn to read in three months. Written Finnish words are easier to decode. There are not as many exceptions to the spelling as in English.
  • It takes the average English child 3 years to master all the spelling anomalies.
  • Children who have not been read to before school are at a disadvantage. They have a limited vocabulary range. They also find learning to read too much of a struggle and many give up.

There is great resistance to reforming the English spelling system even though it is acknowledged as “absolutely, unspeakably awful.”

Unfortunately, many people are suffering because of the entrenched objection to changing the English spelling code.

It is not impossible to change English spelling.

Other countries have changed their spelling code:

  • The Portuguese parliament legislated for reform of Portuguese spelling bringing it more in line with Brazil.
  • The spelling of many English words as the Americans do makes more sense.
  • It is a fact that languages that are phonetically uniform (letter-sound relationships are consistent) are by far easier to read.

Reading and the Brain

Reading is a man-made process and whole brain activity:

It is a skill involving different areas of the brain.

  • The left brain is where the visual and sound images involved in reading are linked.
  • We develop connections between them.

When taught step by step a reader develops 2 reading circuits.

  1. An upper circuit – where words are decoded or sounded out
  2. A lower circuit – where whole words are stored.

The more words stored in the lower circuit the better. This enables fluent reading.

Words that are instantly recognised are stored in the lower circuit. The visual and sound areas of the brain are linked so we can read the word easily.

Words that are not recognised are processed in the upper reading circuit. Knowledge of the Alphabet Principle enables the reader to sound out then blend the sounds into the word. Once this is done the word is sent to the word bank in the lower circuit.

Most people can learn to read English with careful instruction.

My How to Read English course teaches step by step the way to establish reading circuits in the brain.

My students teach their brain to read quickly and systematically.

Learn more here.

If you have any queries, please email me at marilyn@marilynmartyn.com

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