Is your child struggling with reading and writing in English at school? For EFL parents, it is important to understand that learning to read and spell in English is different from learning in their native language. I reside in Croatia, and here the language is phonetic, meaning that words are read and spelled exactly as they sound. However, English is not like that. It uses a range of letter combinations to represent sounds. Sometimes the same letters even make different sounds!

I have often noticed that people here think that English words and spellings just need to be memorized. But what if I was to tell you that many native speakers of English also struggle with reading and spelling, and that there is a proven, research based way to learn it? Whether your child is a native speaker or a language learner, evidence points to the Science of Reading (SOR) as the most effective way for ALL kids to become proficient readers.

SOR is a systematic approach based on years of research in cognitive science, linguistics, psychology and neuroscience. It entails teaching reading and spelling in a step by step manner and requires direct and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, alphabetic and phonetic knowledge, and comprehension. The result is that ALL students develop strong decoding skills. Decoding skills are especially important for learners to be proficient, confident and independent readers not only now, but also in the future when reading and spelling become even more complex. 

What can you do as a parent to help your child with reading?

    1. Build their vocabulary – Use real objects and visuals to build their vocabulary in English (there are loads of free flashcards online about all sorts of topics). Play games using this vocabulary.
    2. Read aloud – Read to your child every day, or at least every other day. Not only is this a wonderful way to spend time together, but it will build their vocabulary and understanding of texts. It can also be a great way to have discussions and practice conversation.
    3. Phonemic awareness  Clap out the syllables in words, and play games where you say a word and your kid tells you what sound they hear at the beginning, middle or end. Have fun manipulating sounds by substituting the first letter in your child’s name with a different letter and see if they can make the new “name” (for example, if you’re learning /b/ and your child’s name is Maria, change it to Baria”)-they love playing with the sounds in their name!
    4. Alphabetic knowledge – Practice the letter names in English at home, so that your child can use them in discussion later when talking about the different sounds each letter makes.
    5. Phonetic awareness  Take classes with a teacher or in a program that uses a Science of Reading based approach because any other approach, such as the all too common “memorization” or relying on pictures, works for some learners but does not work for all learners.
    6. Reading practice Once your child has started reading, build their fluency by practicing reading at home a few times per week; if you are unsure of what to read, you can always ask your child’s teacher for suggestions of where to find material that is at their level. 

Have fun exploring these literacy activities with your child and know that each time you do so, you are supporting their reading development using proven strategies. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out for support!