Parents Guide

Parent’s guide to reading in English

“Keith Stanovich (2000) has said that the greatest contribution of cognitive science to the teaching of reading is the insight that phonological awareness is related to reading.  Indeed, there is near incontrovertible evidence that phonological awareness  is related to reading achievement…” Michael C. McKenna.  Georgia Southern University.  Paper presented at annual meeting.  American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA, April 25,2000.

Learning in early childhood and second language acquisition

Similar to first language learners, second language learners acquire language in developmental sequences.  By age four, a native speaker can ask questions, give commands, report real events, and create stories using correct language most of the time.  It is accepted that by age four/five, native speakers of any language have mastered the basic structures of the  language or languages spoken to them in these early years.   Learning a second language follows a similar procedure.  However with young children, parents should remember that the first language is also still very much developing  and also that the exposure to the second language may or may not have the same amount of language input.  For children learning English as a second language at school or through private classes, parents should have realistic expectations; it is not possible to learn English at the same rate as the mother tongue.

Both for native English speakers and non-English speakers, learning to read  in English presents a similar set of challenges.  It is well accepted that the best way to learn new vocabulary is through reading and research suggests that this is also true for second language learners.  However, whether a native speaker of English or an English as a second language student, in order to learn to read, phonological awareness of the English language is vital for success.  To read well in English, the reader must develop phonological awareness, word recognition and spelling concurrently.  In English, there are 26 letters (graphemes) forming the written alphabet and the letters are combined to make words.  However, there are 44 sounds (phonemes) in English and the reader needs to learn how these sounds are represented in letter combinations.  Being able to break up words, ie, segment them into sounds is the key to reading in English.  Readers need to understand the relationship between letters, sounds and words.  This is quite a complex process as letters ( graphemes)  can often represent more than one sound (phoneme).  To read in English the reader must be able to phonemically segment words, manipulate phonemes, split syllables and blend phonemes into a word.

Reading in English however is not simply about being able to manipulate sounds, manipulating sounds will assist the reader in breaking and making many words but there is also an element of memory where the words do not fall into regular sound patterns.  Hence the reader must also learn sight words.  Combining phonics and memory sight words is the key to early reading success.