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How we read

I have been reading a book, Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, about the development of "biopsychiatry" and of drugs to combat mental illness.

While writing for a lay audience, the author does use the names of the drugs involved. I find myself pronouncing them carefully, sounding them out, often several times for one drug name. I am very good at phonics as well as phonemics and even so I have to work through some of the longer names again and again before I'm comfortable with them.

It occurred to me that this is why it is harder for me to remember names written in a different language - like Russian names, for example, or Polish - because I don't have the pronunciation guide in my head. It is much more a struggle and sometimes I simplify the names just so I can read them quickly, knowing my pronunciation is nowhere near right.

It occurred to me, too, that those who did not learn to spell and read the way I did, those who suffered through that "see and say" technique to the exclusion of all else, must almost necessarily find it much more difficult to read, regardless of their intelligence. Or perhaps they do as I do and simply mispronounce when it's impossible, when they don't recognize the word.

My brother loved to read, at least when he was younger. As he got older he tended to read the same lighter stuff over and over. Perhaps it got to be too much. He didn't spell well and I believe he did not learn how to read phonetically.

All of which reminds me of various experiences with schools, but perhaps another time.


Judith Lautner
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January 2012


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