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How do young children learn to read?

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Quick Answer

Children learn to read by developing an awareness that speech is made up of individual sounds, mapping those sounds to letters and joining sounds and letters together to recognize words. The more time a child spends being read to and exposed to books, the easier the process of learning to read is likely to be, especially when parents focus on pointing out words and letters.

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Full Answer

While speech and language are hard-wired into the human brain, reading is not. Children learn to read by moving through several predictable stages, developing new skills at each stage, until reading becomes easy and feels natural. In the pre-reading stage, a child realizes that words on a page mean something, but the child is unable to fully understand the concept of reading. As the child moves into the novice stage, he or she must develop phonemic awareness, which is the realization that speech is broken into sounds that can be represented by written symbols. In the decoding stage of learning to read, a child figures out how to pronounce words based on the way they are spelled and begins to develop morphological awareness, which is the understanding of parts of speech, such as the meanings of prefixes and suffixes. Decoding skills are necessary for a child to move into the stage of comprehending what he or she reads. Fluent readers are not only able to speak the words they see on a page but can also use their imaginations to understand a story, complete with its figurative language and irony.

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