Some of us may remember our early years and the process of learning to read. For most people it happens so gradually, as part of everything else they learn in childhood, that it’s hard to identify exactly how the learning process occurred. How fast a child learns to read, and how well they improve their reading skills, also depends on factors like parental involvement, the quality of school instruction, the availability of books, and the importance of reading in the child’s daily life. Finally, there may be physiological and/or neurological factors affecting the child that can slow down the reading process, which might be anything from dyslexia to hearing loss to crooked teeth. While you might not think that crooked teeth could slow down reading, it’s true, because there’s such a strong link between the spoken word and learning to relate it to the written word. Any speech impediment has the potential to lead to a difficulty in learning to read.
Fortunately, scientists around the world have been studying the process of learning to speak and read, and their studies and research projects have been giving us valuable information to help children overcome early difficulties as they learn to read. For example, the scientists at the Haskins Laboratories in Connecticut (an independent organization affiliated with both the University of Connecticut and Yale University) have been studying these issues since the 1930s. In the process they have focused on both how the physical structure of the human body (lips, larynx, tongue, etc.) influences the ability to speak and on how the brain works to integrate spoken and written language. In particular, they have opened the Child Language Studies Laboratory to look closely at the way the different parts of the brain are involved during the first five years of a child’s life, when primary language skills are developed.
It’s because of the work done by scientists at the Haskins Laboratories and elsewhere that we’re now able to understand some of the obstacles children experience when learning to read, and to help them overcome those problems.
To find out more about the Child Language Studies Laboratory, click here.