Copyright (C) April, 2012 by Bob Day
All rights reserved.
When I learned to read in grade school when I was a kid, the method for teaching reading in the school I went to was "phonetics". You learned the various sounds each letter could make, which was often influenced by its position in the word or by its relationship with other letters (for example, the "bossy 'e'"). I learned to sound out the letters and say the words in my head. And, throughout my life whenever I read I hear this voice in my head saying the words. My mother had a thing about phonetics. To her, that was obviously the only logical way to learn to read. She used to harangue the teachers at my school about that. It was obvious to me too. There was also another method. At that time it was called the "sight method". Maybe it still is. You learned to read by how words looked — internally and by their outline. I remember a seeing book that taught that method in one of my early grade school classes. It had pictures of rectilinear contours drawn around the words — in red, I think. But that was nuts; it didn't make any sense. Phonetics was the only logical way: letters make sounds; you sound out the words; you can speak the words out loud or say them in your head. Makes total sense.
Recently, I've found out that the "sight method" also makes total sense. My daughter learned to read at a very young age. I think she began to teach herself to read when she was around two years old — long before she went to any kind of school. Maybe that's significant. I think she began to learn to read before she knew the alphabet or that letters had sounds. She must have learned to recognize words purely by what they look like. I had an interesting conversation with her a few months ago, and during that conversation, I found out something absolutely fascinating. She does not hear a voice in her head speaking the words as she reads. I was so totally surprised by that, that I questioned her very closely. I think she was surprised too. I don't understand how anyone can not have a voice speaking in their head when they read (I've since tried to turn off the voice, and I absolutely can't). On the other hand, my daughter doesn't understand how anyone can have a voice in their head when they read.
A while ago, in a computer programming newsgroup on the Internet, there was a discussion about the same thing. Some people in that discussion said they heard a voice; others said they didn't. One guy said he sometimes heard a voice, but when he did, he "turned it off".
Well, go a whole lifetime and then learn something totally new about something very basic. Not obvious at all. Maybe people who hear a voice in their head as they read learned to read phonetically, and maybe people who don't learned via the sight method. Maybe. And there's this theory: Maybe there are two different kinds of ability to read built into the circuitry of our brains, and maybe some people can learn only by one method, some only by the other, and some by either method but usually not both. Maybe one reason some people have trouble learning to read is that they're taught by the method that is wrong for them.
Bottom line? If I had it to do over again and I could choose, I think I would pick the sight method. My daughter can read very fast — she can read a 200 page book in about an hour, and has no problem with comprehension. I can read a whole lot faster than I speak, but not nearly that fast. Also, people who don't have a voice in their head when they read, when they're watching a newscast on TV, can listen to the newscaster and read the crawl script at the bottom of the screen at the same time. My daughter attests to this. I can't do that. For me, reading the crawl script blocks out the newscaster and vice-versa.