Ask Reading Kingdom: Do Adults Learn to Read the Same Way as Children?

Illiteracy affects adults just as much as it does children. A 2002 study from the National Center of Education Statistics showed that roughly 40% of adults in the United States were at either basic or below basic levels of proficiency.  An emphasis needs to be placed on teaching adults how to read, but can adults learn to read the same way children do?

A teacher recently asked:

Do adults learn to read the same way as children?

Dr. Marion Blank answers:

Questions such as these are wonderful and exciting topics for discussion.  Unfortunately they are almost impossible to answer. A huge number of factors stand in the way. For a start, the brain plasticity of an adult is very different from that of a child. Also the adult’s brain is filled with patterns that the person has developed over life; “making room” for new patterns is much harder than when one is starting from scratch. In addition, adults who have not learned to read have a very different motivational base. Often they experience shame and inadequacy at not having learned to read earlier. This is particularly the case if they did try and failed. So almost certainly, for a host of reasons, the adult’s learning experience is going to be quite different from that of a child.

At the same time, if the question is rephrased to “Can adults readily be taught to read?” the answer is far more optimistic. It takes a deep commitment on the part of the adult, but once that is place, effective reading and writing can be achieved in almost all people and the excitement at their accomplishment is phenomenal.

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