Assessing reading

Reading is a skill that is transferable across languages

The reading ability in a language is largely dependent on the pre-existing ‘visual training in symbols’ and the level of competence in the vocabulary and grammatical constructs of the language. The visual training in symbols, in turn, could be seen as composed of two distinct abilities of the brain:

  1. Orthography – the identification of the symbols of a written language – is essentially about training the brain to uniquely and quickly identify the symbols (words of the language) of a language. It is performed by a part of the brain that specialises in processing images and linking the images to their other properties (such as the verb form of a noun) as stored in the long term memory.
  2. Phonology – the association of sound to the symbols of a language – is essentially about linking the spoken equivalent of a symbol to its image ‘as read by the eyes’. It is performed by a part of the brain that is responsible for speech.

Effective reading skills require the closest overlap of orthography and phonology. Of course, this is not to imply that reading is a simple integration of only these two processes; development of reading needs several cognitive and neural processes to come together and it depends on the way we enculture young members of a community in a language.

Except for molecular (such as genetic disorder) and neurobiological (such as brain structure issues), the individual differences in reading skills are almost man-made.

Clearly, orthography and phonology are ‘trained abilities of a brain’ and once acquired with respect to a language, the two automatically come handy for use in reading other languages. In the process, ‘the more the merrier’ works – the more the languages one knows, the more is the ability to learn newer ones.
Reading is grounded in the bio-chemical activities in the brain which are totally language-free!

This discussion draws from “Development of neural systems for reading” by Bradley L.Schlaggar and Bruce D. McCandliss, Copyright © 2007 by Annual Reviews

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