Readable English: Why learning to read English is so hard and how to make it easier

 Why do children learning to read English take more than two years to attain basic literacy, while children learning to read phonetic languages such as Italian achieve the same level within a year?


Why are the effects of dyslexia so much more limiting for readers of English than for those reading phonetic languages?


Over 40% of people in English-speaking countries are functionally illiterate, and the implications of this startling figure extend beyond the individual. Health care costs of people with low literacy are significantly higher than those with high literacy. Studies have even revealed a link between low literacy and higher rates of imprisonment. The list of social impacts goes on.


Readable English: Why learning to read English is so hard and how to make it easier is a compact book bursting with big ideas. It explains in simple terms just why the English language is so hard to learn to read.


It also describes a revolutionary new system called Readable English, which draws on recent developments in neuroscience and brain plasticity to help everyone learn to read, write and speak English more easily.


People who are interested in the English language or the science of reading will find this book interesting.


Specifically, English language educators will be introduced to a new teaching method and parents of children learning to read, struggling with reading or learning English as a second language will find this book informative and helpful.


The book includes the sound for each of the phonemes in English accompanied by videos and instructions for how to make each of the sounds. It also includes the videos used for teaching Readable English, such as videos that explain to students the complexities of the English language. The program is designed to convince students that any difficulties they face with reading aren’t their fault: the problems are the fault of the language, which Readable English ‘fixes’.


Based on theory and data, I can recommend Readable English in the strongest possible terms. It has the potential to transform the teaching of English.


Emeritus Professor John Sweller

Educational psychologist and creator of cognitive load theory

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About the author

 Chris Stephen—It was my middle sister, Alexandra, who taught me how to read. She was herself an avid bookworm. Literacy was considered extremely important in our family as we had a strong literary heritage, including such people as Henry John Stephen, who wrote Stephen’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, which became the leading legal textbook for over 150 years, and Sir Leslie Stephen, who founded the Dictionary of National Biography. Sir Leslie’s daughter, Virginia Woolf, needs no introduction. In Australia, my cousin Martha Campbell was a major contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


My interest in literacy turned into an obsession when Alexandra developed multiple sclerosis. As my sister’s illness developed, she lost the ability to read sentences easily and could only manage individual words. I was determined to work out why Alexandra couldn’t read easily anymore, and after much research discovered she had an eye-tracking problem. This meant she had to use a huge amount of mental energy to keep the words she read in the correct order, and didn’t have enough energy left over to decipher the meaning of those words and phrases.


It became my mission to help Alexandra read fluently by reducing the mental effort needed, eventually creating a large print format that enabled her to pursue again one of the few activities she loved. Seeing the positive impact on Alexandra made me understand how important reading is to a person’s quality of life and to never take that ability for granted. I was deeply motivated to try helping others to read as well, and established a business in Sydney in 1998 called ReadHowYouWant.


Initially the business focused on developing accessible publishing technology that could quickly and accurately convert PDF books into a large number of accessible formats, including braille, DAISY (digital talking books), different text sizes and other reader-designed preferences. This technology has enabled Alexandra and thousands of others to read with ease. To date ReadHowYouWant has converted around 30,000 publications into accessible formats for readers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.


Early into that other project, fate intervened. I went to a meditation retreat and met a reading specialist working in San Francisco. Ann and I shared a passion for helping people who were struggling to read, and in 2009 we started exploring the Readable English idea together. Our unlikely meeting turned into a creative collaboration, and then into a personal relationship.

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Additional Information

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Published on
Mar 15, 2016
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Education / General
Education / Special Education / General
Foreign Language Study / English as a Second Language
History / Europe / Great Britain
Language Arts & Disciplines / General
Psychology / Cognitive Psychology & Cognition
Reference / Dictionaries
Science / Cognitive Science
Self-Help / General
Social Science / People with Disabilities
Study Aids / TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) & IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Reading information

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