There are several factors that contribute to the reason why many children have reading difficulties. They are comprehensively covered in the book written by registered psychologists and founders of I Can Read, Antony Earnshaw and Annabel Seargeant: Dealing with Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties, published by Pearson Education.

The authors, who spent nearly 15 years investigating reading development as research psychologists, support the view that in general, poor reading skills are the consequence of ineffective and inadequate instructional approaches.

What this means is that in general, children fail to learn to read English easily or well because they are not taught properly. Well-meaning teachers may have exposed students to the alphabet prematurely, making it confusing for a beginner reader who has not yet developed sufficient pre-reading skills such as syllabic and phonemic awareness.

Through our pre-reading and reading courses, taught by Reading Specialists, I Can Read ensures that learning to read is a rewarding and fun process for all students.


A good instructional approach to reading lessons makes explicit the manner in which sounds combine to create words. It should teach students that accessing sounds accurately makes word-pronunciation clearer.

As students become aware of how sounds blend together, they realise that whole, meaningful words are actually an array of smaller sounds which can be combined or divided; stretched and blended in the process of word construction. Thus, by the time these students begin decoding text by looking at letters, what they are able to demonstrate is that letters representing sounds combine, as do sounds, and are in fact pictures of sounds. This is the first essential step on the road to learning to read the English language.

However, it is by no means the end of the story. English is a hybrid language and lacks an agreed rule system for its grammatical constructs, its syntactical outlines and most confusingly, for the pronunciation of strings of letters or combinations of letters that combine to complete words.

Take the letter ‘a’. It can represent several different sounds, as in words like ‘cat’, ‘gate’, ‘was’, ‘any’, ‘tall’, ‘bath’ and ‘area’.

Another example is the combination of letters ‘ough’. It is impossible to know the correct pronunciation of these letters. In the word ‘cough’, it makes the sounds /o/-/f/. Now take the word ‘bough’. The sound ‘ough’ makes is /ow/ (as in cow).

With the same letter sequence in words like ‘though’, ‘through’ and ‘enough’, one can see that learning to read in English means knowing how to accurately access the array of sounds at all times. Not being able to do this means having to guess and hoping to get lucky in the attempt. This is what frequently results in reading difficulties amongst beginner readers.

As English is not rule-bound, it cannot be learned by rules. The challenge faced by educators in current times is how to empower children to accurately access the sound sequence. Once the foundational requirement to accurately manipulate the phonological array has been taught, the next challenge is how to guarantee accurate pronunciation of the sequence.

As you saw by the above example, pronouncing the same group of letters is not always straightforward. Many words in English are unpredictable with regards to their pronunciation. For some time, there has been a need to create an instructional approach that removes the confusion and ambiguities that can arise when groups of letters combine in unpredictable ways.

Children must know whether to say /k/-/o/-/f/ or /k/-/ow/ (for example) in a word like ‘cough’. Additionally, many words in written English contain letters that seemingly make no contribution to the pronunciation of the word. This can lead to confusion and reading difficulties for any student. A word like ‘apple’ could easily be spelled ‘apl’ where the three sounds are all present, thus eliminating the remaining, unnecessary letters ‘p’ and ‘e’.

Historical conventions are not easy to override and few have tried or succeeded. Webster managed to eliminate a few anomalies in written English and changed ‘colour’ to ‘color’ for instance, but what has happened is that generally the spelling conventions established in the 17th century have remained in place since then and have been impervious to change, notwithstanding the differences between written British English and written American English.

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