The development of reading skills obviously serves as the gateway to the world of printed information. Most, if not all, of the informal education that we received is accomplished without the use of printed material. Historically, the oral tradition was the foundation of the informal education process and continues to remain so. However, through the development of reading skills, we prepare ourselves for our journey toward learning the material that must be mastered during the formal education process.

Many proponents of ‘whole language’ feel that, since humans learn to speak their native language through immersion, the act of reading follows a similar pattern, and exposure to the printed word leads to the development of reading skills. This reasoning bears a false truth value. A great deal of care and attention to detail must accompany reading instruction because reading is quite different from speech.

In speech, the listener is provided with many clues as to the meaning of the words presented by the speaker. Intonation, pitch, cadence, and body language all provide context clues that assist in the comprehension of auditory signals. Further, according to the Innateness Hypothesis, children are equipped with a blueprint for the innate principles and properties that pertain to the grammars of all spoken human language called universal grammar. This blueprint aids the child in the task of constructing a grammar for the native language. Structure dependency of the native language and coordinate structure constraint are inherent. The rules of grammar that are language specific are learned from the surrounding linguistic environment through stages in oral communication, presenting speech as a natural process.

Reading involves a quite different process. The two key components of reading, which do not manifest themselves in speech, are word identification and concept imagery. Word identification involves recognizing that words are a systematic string of individual graphemes (letters). Each individual sequential combination represents a different word. Students must be able to string together the individual phonemes (sounds) to produce these words. This is the essence of decoding. The other half of the reading puzzle involves comprehension of the meanings behind the sequential combinations of letters (words). Concept imagery allows students to visualize the item or process represented by the words. Students who have weak word attack skills (word identification) will stumble and stammer as they attempt to read the printed language. Those weak in concept imagery (comprehension) may read with prosody but will not understand what was read.

To understand the impact of word identification and concept imagery on the reading process, one merely needs to understand that the printed language is a code for spoken language. In order to read, a student must be able to translate the written symbol to the corresponding sound that it represents. This knowledge is called sound-symbol correspondence. The ability to make this translation is called phonemic awareness. Reading, or decoding, involves sound-symbol correspondence and phonemic awareness, of which, neither is a naturally occurring process.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Walter E. Dunson, Jr. is an academic language therapist who has logged more than 25,000 hours working with dyslexic students and other students with language acquisition difficulties and language-based learning disorders in small group and one-on-one tutorials. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Houston Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and has extensive experience in the areas of articulation, phonology, language acquisition, and language-based learning differences.

During a span of twenty-three years in education, Dr. Dunson has served as a classroom instructor for English and Spanish, reading lab coordinator, curriculum development specialist, Orton-Gillingham language training instructor, Lindamood-Bell phoneme sequencing instructor, educational testing coordinator, learning specialist, speaker, educational consultant, and academic language therapist. Further, he is the author of the following books:

• The English Code: A Forensic Approach to Mastering the Language
• Manual of English Phonology: Understanding the Written Code of the English Language
• English Development Series: A Skeleton Key to the Linear Development of English Proficiency
• The Grammar Resource Directory: A Handy Reference Guide for Teachers and Students of the English Code
• Final Stable Syllables: Mastering the Suffixes of the English Language
• Word Construction: Building Blocks for the Latinate, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon Components of the English Language

Dr. Dunson currently lives in Washington, DC with his wife and son. He maintains a private practice as an academic language therapist and provides language remediation and other educational services. He seeks to provide a systematic approach to mastering the English language and a solid foundation for the acquisition of reading, writing, and spelling skills for all individuals who seek to obtain or improve reading ability.