Ask Reading Kingdom: Advice to Adults Who Cannot Read Fluently

Dr. Marion Blank’s passion for literacy started at a young age, when she taught her own grandmother how to read.  Her work over the past 40 years has  all about giving the gift of reading to everyone.


Bruce (Author) asks:

What advice would you give to an adult who cannot read fluently?

Dr. Marion Blank answers:

As with so many questions concerning literacy, this one taps into a host of issues. A key one is motivation. Who wants things to change? Is it the person who is facing the difficulties, or someone else, such as a relative with good intentions? For change to occur, the person himself or herself must be highly motivated. In the absence of that motivation, meaningful change is not likely.

A second critical issue concerns the ease of learning at different stages in life. Although it is widely believed that language-related learning develops most easily early in life, advances in neuroscience now paint a far more optimistic picture for adults. Research has shown that meaningful learning can take place throughout life.

Although the potential exists, the path to achieving the behavior is not easy. One of the biggest obstacles in adulthood is making time in a busy schedule to learn a skill that earlier in life caused such difficulties and which is associated with a history of frustration and pain. It can be done, but it takes tremendous motivation and a significant commitment of time.

Given this set of factors, one of the best courses of action is to determine a) what is motivating the person to take on this challenge and b) what do they hope to accomplish. If the goal of fluency is related to work issues, then the person –preferably with the help of a guide or counselor—should identify the type of assignments involved (e.g., reading project reports, reading directives, etc.) While it is not given much attention, the type of reading matters. With frequent sessions (occurring at least three to four times a week) within a few months, a person can develop many, if not most, of the skills they need for the type of reading required in their work. These skills are not likely to transfer to other forms of reading. But the skills are important and their attainment is extremely valuable –from many points of view (ease of work, self-esteem, etc.) On the other hand, if the goal is pleasure reading where the person wants to gain access to particular books, it is very useful to leverage the power of newer technologies such as audio books.

So many possibilities exist. But it is vital to be clear about the situation and focus on the key dimensions that will be critical to success.

Read more questions from the “Ask Reading Kingdom” blog series

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