Reading skills development
The development of reading skill is associated with a child’s development and their environment (for example, home literacy environment and the early text experiences of the child) as well as the child related linguistic and cognitive factors and their interest toward written language. A child learns in interaction with other people and the literacy environment. Thus, they gradually understand the principles of a writing system and letter-phoneme correspondence and how to combine these to form meaning. Children’s experiences of written language differ based on their interest in texts and the reading habits of the home. Early experiences of written language (such as a parent reading aloud to their child) are related to later reading skill. When an adult reads aloud to the child, the child notices that there is a connection between spoken and written language. Children’s experiences of written language also strengthen vocabulary and metalinguistic awareness; that is, understanding the language as a coding system for which the structures are described with words, such as sentence, word, letter and phoneme.
A child’s linguistic development is a basis for reading development. Then, several cognitive components are needed when they learn to decode words. The most important skills are letter knowledge and phonological awareness, which are necessary for understanding letter–sound correspondences to decode written words.
In orthographically-shallow languages (such as Bantu languages), letter knowledge is an important predictor of accurate decoding skill. Letter knowledge reflects the child’s previous experiences of written language and the child’s own interest toward it. Children who can name many letters when starting school have probably had many experiences related to written language, have been interested in letters and have paid attention to the symbols of written language.
Another important predictor of decoding skill is phonological awareness, which means the child’s sensitivity to perceive and their ability to understand and manage the connection between spoken and written language. This develops from a holistic perception of spoken language to more detailed perception of structures of language as the child gradually focuses on the shift from the meaning of spoken language more to the form of the language and phonological structures of words. In particular, after learning written language and letters, awareness of phonological structures of language develops to phonemic awareness; that is, an ability to understand the phoneme structure of written language and to combine or separate either a single sound or phonemes from words. Phonemic awareness is an important dimension of linguistic awareness for learning accurate decoding. In some languages, the development of phonological awareness and reading skill is reciprocal, meaning that although phonological awareness predicts reading skill, reading skill also predicts the development of phonological awareness. Also, in Bantu languages, phonological awareness seems to develop reciprocally with learning reading skill.
Letter knowledge, understanding letter–phoneme correspondence and ability to combine phonemes to bigger units, syllables, and words are all prerequisites of acquiring basic reading skill. In orthographically-shallow languages such as Bantu languages, letter–phoneme correspondence is regular and usually a single phoneme is represented by a single letter, which makes a word’s phoneme structure transparent for the child who is learning to read. The greatest benefit of practicing phonemic skills is acquired when it is combined with teaching to read and spell words. If phonemic awareness does not develop while learning to read, it is usually a sign of difficulties in reading and spelling. For this reason, the assessment of phonemic awareness has significance for the early recognition of reading difficulties.
Reading fluency, how accurate and fast child reads, is a product of the automatisation of word reading In particular, naming speed seems to be universal; that is, it is an independent predictor of the development of reading fluency. Naming refers to the ability to grasp facts accurately from memory labels, such as names of familiar letters, numbers and objects.
Reading comprehension means to understand what you read, which consists of reading fluency and comprehension of language. The more fluent the reading, the more attention the reader can direct toward text comprehension. Both listening comprehension and vocabulary have been found to predict the development of reading comprehension. It is of note that although vocabulary affects reading comprehension, these skills develop reciprocally: reading enriches a child’s vocabulary. In addition to reading fluency and language comprehension, memory, reading strategies and the metacognitive abilities of monitoring, evaluation and regulation of own comprehension have been found to be related to reading comprehension.
The development of reading skill requires motivation to practice enough and a voluntary reading habit. The significance of these factors increases as the school years proceed: reading activity and reading habit are predictors of good reading skill. This relationship is also naturally reciprocal: children’s reading skill also predicts the amount of reading spent during spare time. Skilled readers also read a lot voluntarily, which further advances the development of Reading fluency.
Figure 1 shows the main factors that affect the development of reading skill. Home literacy environment and the child’s own interest toward texts are particularly related to letter knowledge, which predict the accuracy of reading words together with the development of phonological awareness. Naming speed predicts automatisation of word recognition (or reading fluency), which strongly predicts reading comprehension. Furthermore, a child’s vocabulary, listening comprehension, memory and comprehension strategies together with metacognitive skills are related to reading comprehension. It is of note that the same factors that predict development of reading skill are mainly responsible for the development of spelling and productive writing skill.