“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™.

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