Reading: What is it, really?

We all know what reading is, right? It's that thing you're doing right now. But do you really realize what you're doing right now? 

There are a few assumptions about reading that we all have. Most of us are used to reading being silent, private, easy, and fast. We're so well-practiced, that we don't realize what it took to get to the point where reading was simply second nature to us. 

Reading isn't silent!

But reading is a complex process. It takes many skills working in tandem. Although many of us today read "silently", what we are doing isn't silent—it's just very very quiet! 

Perhaps you can remember back to the days when you were learning how to read. Probably your parents and teachers and, if you were lucky, many other friends and family would read out loud to you. You started by looking at the pictures, hearing the words, and, over many repetitions, memorizing the story. 

You might have "read" the storybooks back to yourself or your family, using the pictures as clues, speaking out loud the main narrative in bits and pieces as you turned the pages. Slowly it dawned on you that these strange markings on the page—the letters—actually meant something, and were connected to the sounds of the words being read! 

The clear point here is that letters stand for sounds. Kids with good speaking skills and a natural sense of rhythm make good readers; Adults reading or thinking silently actually move their vocal chords and speech muscles in slight but measurable ways!

While we can suppress "reading out loud", but we can't get rid of it. We "hear" a voice in our heads, an author "speaks" to us; we re-present reading orally and aurally! Letters are cues for us to recreate speech sounds

This first step of the reading process is called decoding. Learning how to turn letters into sounds is a very important skill. BUT DECODING ISN'T READING! 

Again, think of what you're doing right now. Are you just making sounds? Or, are you also making sense?

"Reading" requires comprehension! 

Again, just making the sounds represented on the page isn't "reading". "Sounding out words" is an important skill for beginning readers to learn; but once the word is sounded out, we need to be able to connect it to a meaning! 

The fastest and best way to do this is by already knowing the word through experience. Once again, as you read this, how many times did you look in a dictionary? I'm willing to bet it's zero. How many unknown words can be on a page before you're doing more "looking in the dictionary" than "reading"?

The numbers from the research suggest unknown vocab can be up to 2%. Greater than 5%, and readers can't understand enough of the words to make sense of the sentences! That's why beginning readers need simple, speech-like material to begin reading. 

A real problem for Tibetan

That's a real problem for Tibetan. If we look at the current materials that exist for learning to "read" Tibetan, we have to admit that these materials do quite a lot of teaching us how to look in a dictionary—and not a Tibetan dictionary, but a Tibetan-to-English dictionary. 

If we look at the materials that exist for children, we have to admit that those materials contain very un-speech-like writing. And far greater than 2% un-speech-like words! So how do we really actually start reading, not "reading", in Tibetan?!