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Put Your Reading Where Your Mouth Is!

A number of new discoveries can now shed light on what happens in the brain as children learn to read, and how the kind of instruction children receive can set the course for their reading future.

One remarkable discovery gives us a new understanding of how skilled readers can look at thousands of words and instantly recognize their meaning—an unfamiliar experience for an alarming number of American youngsters.

How do they do it? According to Linnea Ehri, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the sight of a word triggers its pronunciation, and it is this pronunciation that has been stored in memory for convenient access along with the meaning of the word. Our lips may not be moving when we read, but our brains are “talking”.

Ehri ‘s studies show that trying to recognize thousands of words from their visual appearance alone (pattern recognition) is almost impossible.  It is the “speech memory” that is the key.  How do you remember a new telephone number as you walk to the phone?  You say it to yourself. How do you decode and store a new word that you encounter as you’re reading Anna Karenina or Harry Potter?  You “sound-it-out” and pronounce it.

……..I will continue to post blogs about the relationship between speech and reading.

Talking Fingers Resumes Blogging

This blog reflects my 40 years of experience with reading research, from neuroscience labs to classrooms.  Seriously concerned about the problem that 2/3 of America’s children still are struggling to read, we have applied and received  grants from the National Institute of Child Health & Development  to develop and do research with software to help children learn to read.  Our mission has been to provide instructional materials that implement what science has found about how children become skilled readers.

One thing Talking Fingers has emphasized over the last 30 years is the importance of speech and a speech-to-print approach to learning to read.  I’ll talk more about this in blogs to come. But here are two quotes to start out this conversation about the importance of speech:


“The process of learning to read must be understood as a reorganization of the management of oral speech, its transformation from an automatic process (dealing with whole words) to a voluntary, consciously regulated process (segmenting words into individual sounds), which then becomes automatic with practice.” D. B. Elkonin


“Learning an alphabetic code is like acquiring a virus [that] infects all speech processing, as now whole word sounds are automatically broken up into sound constituents.  Language is never the same again.” Uta Frith


Consciously noticing that your mouth makes different sounds when you say a word is what Elkonin describes as a “reorganization of the management of oral speech.” You must add a new group of pathways and connections in your brain’s speech center. What you have always thought of as whole words must now be also thought of as a string of sounds. It is not an easy task, and phoneme awareness is the skill that is most frequently missing in children who struggle to read. It is the organization of these pathways, and the habitual use of them that enables us to instantly recognize words and decode new words.

Recommended Reading


While Jeannine takes a break from blogging this holiday week, here are some good blog posts to check out:

  • has some great articles, like these:
  • The ASCD Community Blog assesses the “Language of Thinking” in this article, examining the words that teachers use in the classroom when teaching children.

Wishing all of our readers a happy holiday season!

Reader Survey


I am new at this blogging thing. And delighted to have some readers! Would you mind answering some questions so I can improve my blogging? I’d also be happy to answer questions you might have.

1) What category of post do you appreciate the most (ex: research, education, parenting, software, phonics, disorders)?

2) Do you prefer long or short posts?

3) Do you share these blog posts on other social networks?

4) What could I do to improve the usability of this blog?

5) How did you first find this blog?

Feel free to answer any of these questions in the comment field. I hope this helps me to serve you better.