Month: July 2020

“Why can’t my child read?”

“Why can’t my child read as well as everyone else?” is the unasked question we see in the eyes of most of the parents we talk to (on Zoom).

The answer is simple: your child can’t read because English is too hard. Seriously. That’s the problem. Our language itself is terribly, obnoxiously, horrendously, notoriously difficult to read. So don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It’s English itself that is the problem. In fact, it is so hard to read that millions of children fail. It’s not your child, or the class size, or even the teaching methods (this matters, but not as much as you think). It’s the very language itself. This is what the science of reading in the last ten years has been trying to explain.

Most Kids Won’t Read English Proficiently

First, know that if your kid can’t read (or read as well as they “should”), they are in abundant company. As of the most recent Reading Report Card by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more than half of the kids in the country can’t read proficiently and one in four can barely read at all. Did you know we have a higher percentage of children reading below “basic” levels than we did 10 years ago? Did you know that literacy scores in the last two years are in a sharp decline? The story is even worse if you come from a poor neighborhood or are black or brown. And the consequences of low literacy are severe: it’s a sentence for a lifetime of lower income, slower progress, and uphill battles.

“When our kids can’t read, parents blame themselves. But they shouldn’t. The true problem is our language – it’s English itself. And that’s not opinion, it’s science.” – Zachary Silverzweig, CEO of TinyIvy

Even worse, all of this data is from before the Covid Slide. Before kids were sent home from schools, which disproportionately impacts minority students and those from poor families.

So what’s the answer? Why exactly do so few kids learn to read? It is hard to learn to read because English doesn’t read well. Over the past fifteen years or so, a growing body of research has begun to look at all languages, in a search for fundamental truth in how kids develop reading skills. The conclusion? English is, technically and scientifically, outrageously difficult to learn.

Compare English to Other Languages

For most European languages, kids read with 90-98% accuracy in one year. With English its 34%. That means that the average kid in France can read a book and correctly read nine in ten words.

The quick brown fox jumped over the ???? dog.

The French kid can read and understand the text. They can learn the new word from the context of the ones they understand and teach themselves to read the rest. But in English, that can’t happen. The language is too hard. Compare to how the English kid will likely perform:

The ????? ????? fox ?????? ???? the ???? dog.

The English learner can’t learn on their own with what they know. And this is really why kids who fall behind will never catch up. If you are not able to read well enough, you can’t make forward progress on your own. Practice is painful and feels pointless because your child can’t figure it out.

Speaking of figuring things out, let’s look at Italian. Italian is “transparent”, meaning what you see is what you say. Every letter is pronounced one way. It’s a “one-to-many” relationship. If you know the letter, you know the sound. On the other end of the spectrum is English, where an A or an O an E can make 6-10 different sounds EACH. It’s gobsmacking. Not only does every letter in Italian point to a single sound, but there are 97% fewer spelling rules than in English. Most kids become rapid efficient decoders of Italian in a few months of study. However, in English, most kids never achieve that mark. One-third of Finnish students read proficiently when they start 1st grade, but fewer than half of kids in the US will reach that level.

Can We Just Make English Easier?

So, the next time you are wondering why your kid is having so much trouble reading, look at any sentence in any book (unless it is one of ours) and think about how she could possibly figure it out unless she already knew how to read. What we ask our kids to do is unfair and a huge waste of their time and yours.

And now there really is a better way.

With TIPS, all of the challenges that held kids back are gone. Finally, all the complexity of English spelling and pronunciation is gone. Every single word becomes regular. At long last, English is easy to read. The average child could be reading fluently in 9-12 months of study, not 5 years. It should take a few weeks of instruction and a few months of practice to reach peak decoding speed, not 5 years. 90% of our children should be reading at grade level, not 40%. And now, for the first time ever, there is real hope that this can be the case. For the first time in English, there is a better answer to the question of “why can’t my child read?” They can’t read, because they haven’t tried to read with TIPS™.

Why Names Matter for Literacy


Your Child’s Name Can Help Him Learn to Read

Scientists multiple countries have put a lot of effort in trying to understand how children learn to read. A study in Israel using Israeli children, and drawing on research done in the United States, has looked at how children use their name as a tool for learning to recognize letters and words. (If you’d like to read the full study, you can access here.) But the short story is, your child’s name can actually help him learn to read. 

It is no surprise that family members encourage toddlers to learn their name and print the letters in them. Studies have shown that at the beginning, children do not recognize or understand the letters in their names or the sounds they signify. Often they cannot write their names reliably. A possible explanation is that young children have a memory for only a small number of letters.  It also appears that children are best able to recognize the first letter in their name, and maybe three letters total if it is a long name.  Most recognition of the first letter comes when it appears as a capital letter rather than a lower case letter. In many cultures, first names are very short, so it is easier for kids to learn the sounds and read their names.

First Letter Recognition

But generally, kids recognition of their own names, or names of people familiar to them, comes from that first letter recognition and word picture identification. Even though they may know the alphabet sounds that  letters ions in pronunciation of letters, and rules, sounding out his name is often not easy or intuitive. In teaching names to children, parents tend to name the letters rather than focus on the sound each letter makes.  Where the letter reliably represents the sound, the children better learns the sound along with the letter.  That, of course is often not the case. Zōē, for example, is an easy name to sound out … because two letters say their name. William, Joseph, Sarah are harder, because of variations in the letter sounds. 

Use your child’s name to help teach the concept of words and letter sounds. Explain that her name is a word that has a very special meaning, and belongs to her. Sound out each letter, and explain that sometimes the same letter has different sounds. The  two As in Anna are different (and neither one pronounced like the two As in Sarah). William has two different pronunciations of the letter I, as does Olivia.

Sounds Don’t Correlate with the Name

No wonder they focus only on the first letter!  But understanding their name as a word made up of individual sounds helps them understand the concept of letters making sounds that blend to form words that have meaning and lead to knowledge. An interesting side note, is that kids identify with, and recognize their first names, but far more often than not pay very little attention to their surname! 

Even though our TIPS™ system is leveled, introducing more frequently encountered sounds first, showing your child that each letter in his name has a unique sound is helpful. Like this:

In TIPS™, “Sophie is a Level 12 word”, largely because of the /ph/ sound, which is relatively rare in the English language. But here you have 6 letters, giving 4 sounds, with 1 silent letter. Try explaining THAT to a 4 year old! But if you explain that the diacritics have a meaning and a purpose, like a line means the letter says its name, or an x under means that letter has no sound, they can apply that concept as they learn other TIPS™ and learn to read. And looking at the name above, you can see how easy it will be for kids to make the transition to no tips as they start to internalize the word pictures.


Useful Teaching Concept

Despite the difficulty in relating the letters in your child’s name to the sounds they make,  a child’s name, family and peer names can be a useful tool for teaching reading concepts. It’s a good way to illustrate blending, showing how the discrete sounds combine smoothly to make their name.  If your child’s name has more than one syllable, it’s a good way to illustrate segmenting, another skill important in reading. 

Parents who talk, talk talk to their kids generally have kids with better phonemic awareness, because they hear so many words. Parents who read, read, read to their kids generally have kids who are more fluent readers. But every child likes to feel special, so focusing on your child’s name as a learning tool can be very beneficial.

So if you want to get started by teaching your child their name in TIPS™, make a request HERE, and we will be happy to send it to you!


Understanding Reading Fluency




Fluency in reading is a critical skill that is the goal of learning to read. Reading fluency is what motivates kids to read more, because it is enjoyable, not frustrating. It is what leads to reading to learn, after learning to read. The problem is that children who are not reading fluently by 3rd or 4th grade generally never do, and struggle the rest of the school years, and often the rest of their lives.

What is reading fluency? When we think of fluency, the first thing that comes to mind is learning a foreign language. How accurate are we? Can we communicate without hesitation? Can we communicate with expression? Can we understand not only the content, but the nuances of the conversation? what other people are saying If we can do all those things, we consider ourselves “fluent.”

Same is true for reading English. Can we decode accurately, that is, sound out a word to get its meaning? Can we decode automatically so we are not stumbling and making mistakes? Can we read smoothly, at an appropriate pace? Can we read with the expression and intonation that communicates the meaning of what we are reading? If we can do all that, when we read aloud, we are reading “fluently”. And this is the level we need to get our kids to, early on, so they can maximize their success in life.  Accuracy, smooth speed, and expression.


How does it happen? First, a child needs a firm foundation in the ability to decode words. Decoding has to become second nature. At first that means knowing the sounds the letters make, and sounding out the word. With practice, a vocabulary of sight words begins to accrue, and the “sounding out” form of decoding is limited to new words. At this point, a child can read with what is called “automaticity”, that is, they can read most of the words on the page, have some hesitation as they come across new words, but don’t necessarily understand the content of what they are reading, or how it relates to their world. It’s still just words strung together on a bumpy road. 

The next step is a big leap. To gain fluency, readers need to be able to recognize words automatically, so they don’t need to decode except occasionally.  They need to be able to know which words group together to form meaningful phrases. They need to read aloud smoothly and with expression.  group words together to  And it comes with practice, practice, practice, and then more practice.

Let your child read simple books, even if they are below what you consider her intellectual ability. Have older children read to their younger siblings … those toddler board books are great practice for the learning-to-be-fluent reader. Have your child read to you, books she is familiar with. Make sure she reads the words correctly. Have her stop if she stumbles, or guesses wrong, and sound out the word. See if you can identify problem sounds, and work on those. 

Fluency in reading is what creates joy in reading, and that joy is what leads to reading to learn. The focus shifts from figuring out words to figuring out the meaning of what they are reading. And that opens up a world of possibilities.


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