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May 9, 2012

Reading instruction across countries--English is hard

Daniel Willingham:

One finding (from Seymour, Aro & Erskine, 2003) illustrated in one figure (Figure 5.3 from Stan Dehaene's marvelous book, Reading in the Brain.). The figure shows errors in word reading at the end of first grade, by country.

Are we to conclude that the differences are due to educational practice? The vaunted Finnish system shows smashing results even at this early age, whereas the degenerate British system can't get it right?

Countrywide differences in instruction could play a role, but Dehaene emphasize that the countries in which children make a lot of errors--Portugal, France, Denmark, and especially Britain--just happen to have deeper orthographies.

A shallow orthography means that there is a straightforward correspondence between letters and phonemes. English, in contrast, has one of the deepest (most complex) orthographies among the alphabetic languages: for example, the letter combination "gh" if pronounced differently in in "ghost," "eight," and "enough."

In short, children learning to read English have a difficult task in front of them--and so too, therefore, do teachers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at May 9, 2012 4:40 AM
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