Late January 2018
Reading is foundational to school success. It takes approximately 20,000 hours of listening to speech before a child’s brain has clear mental referents for each of the speech sounds1. This ability is necessary to enjoy rhyming and to develop phonological awareness skills. Reading is parasitic on listening. Listening can be thought of as applying meaning to sound, allowing the brain to organize, establish vocabulary, develop receptive and expressive language, learn, internalize, and indeed listening is where hearing meets brain2. As we read we ‘listen to ourselves read aloud in our heads’ as a precursor for gaining meaning. Anything that slows down reading fluency will interfere with reading comprehension and overall success. Even students who are visual learners must develop adequate phonological awareness using visual, rather than auditory, techniques. A whole-word approach to reading will never allow students to keep up or prepare for the content comprehension demands of secondary school and beyond. The One World Literacy Foundation has found that 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a 4th grade level. We can predict that if a child is not reading proficiently in the 4th grade, he or she will have approximately a 78% chance of not catching up3.
It has been said that reading is parasitic on language, but more fundamentally, verbal language learning is reliant on hearing the sounds of speech throughout everyday activities and environments. Therefore, phonological skills reflect a child’s fine-tuned auditory perception ability. The 2000 National Reading Panel, in their report: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction, stated that “the best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness).” Whether a child has the residual hearing for this fine auditory discrimination or teaching/learning is via cued speech or visual phonics, it is clear that children with hearing loss must hone their phonemic awareness skills if they are ever to achieve the reading fluency needed to keep up in secondary school.