reading skills

Illiteracy is America’s secret shame. Nearly 200 million adult Americans are illiterate and the number continues to grow. It’s a stunning number of people. Despite our economic, technologic and scientific advantages, the United States, in all categories (ethnicity, race, geography, etc.) has failed to move the needle when it comes to reading literacy rates. The number is stuck (and arguably getting worse ) as we continue to transition from an industrial society to an informational one.

Our Growing, Troubling Illiteracy Problem

How can it be that nearly 200 million Americans are illiterate? Most studies discuss “strict literacy” – i.e. not being able to read the printed word. These studies show that 32 million Americans are illiterate, a statistic that has not significantly changed in 30 years. However, a study reported  by the New York Times entitled “Half of the Adults in the U.S. Can’t Read” revealed a growing “marginal illiteracy” problem, where 50% of Americans – “nearly half of the nation’s 191 million adult citizens are not proficient enough in English to write a letter” and have difficulty in “practical matters that people face every day.” They have difficulty with reading comprehension, filling out documents, understanding and summarizing facts in an article or writing a paragraph summarizing information. And our youth are in as much trouble, as almost all high school students in the United States do not graduate with a reading proficiency above a 5th-grade reading level. Combined, the studies show nearly 200 million Americans are illiterate or marginally illiterate, and the real number could be even higher.

What it really means to be literate

Being illiterate is an inability to read (or identify) the printed word. Reading is made up of three basic parts: the words, the meaning of the words and comprehension. What affects the comprehension is the mistakes on the words and/or their meaning. Being literate (or having reading comprehension) assumes you can identify and read words quickly, with correct pronunciation, and understand meaning and context.

Our Broken System and the Real Causes of Illiteracy?

People in our society have been conditioned to believe that Illiteracy begins in adulthood. To many, the conventional causes of illiteracy range from parents having little schooling, difficult socioeconomic or living conditions, ethnicity, geography or learning disabilities. All of this fails to address one common element. The root cause of the problem is the methods being used in our schools.

Is Your child making a lot of Mistakes on Words that Look Alike?

In the American education system, beginning readers are introduced to 300 small words that can easily confuse a child. For example, words that contain “the”, “was or saw” and “were or where” words. These confusing words can cause hesitancy and stumbles while reading, causing a child to make mistakes and develop a hesitancy in reading. When a child becomes hesitant they lose their place, become unfocused and have difficulty concentrating. This is the foundation of illiteracy.  Children are never given the repetitions needed to truly learn the words. There is little developmental building on those words as well. The loss of concentration can become so severe, that the student may not be able to remember what they just read by the time they reach the end of the sentence. This is the beginning of comprehension problems. From an emotional standpoint, the child feels like they have a dagger in the heart and develops hate for reading and for school.

Addressing Reading Struggles Early is Critical

If reading struggles are not addressed early, the child starts the upper grades (grades 4th through 12th) with a debilitating reading comprehension problem. Compounding this problem is the shift from learning to read, to reading to learn. Some 20 new words are introduced every week during these formative years. If you were asked to read a paragraph, it may contain as many as 7 words a child would not understand. This breaks any concentration during reading – causing confusion and leading to the inability to understand what was just read.

Where Marginal Illiteracy begins.

That is why 4th-grade is where marginal illiteracy begins. If your child doesn’t know the meaning of a word, they will never use it in writing and won’t ever speak it; it will be as though they never learned the new word in the first place. The hesitant reading leads to limited vocabulary. As their classes continue, students are labelled learning disabled and will have little hope of catching up to the class. They will be stuck in a spiral of doubt, frustration and illiteracy.

This is why most of the country never advances beyond a 5th-grade reading level. A comprehensive study found that the average high schooler reads at only a 5th-grade reading level. If you think that is low, consider this – one of the most well-known newspapers in New York, the New York Daily News, is written so that the “average” person can understand it. They target a 5th-grade reading level for the paper.  By comparison, the New York Times is said to be written at an 8th-grade reading level.

Why aren’t schools teaching more vocabulary?

Our schools do not introduce sufficient vocabulary and often only repeat each new word one time. So your child isn’t being exposed to the words they need, aren’t seeing them frequently enough to actually remember them. Again, it is as though the words were never being taught at all. To overcome this problem a technique or method is needed that can teach effectively, quickly and link fluency, comprehension and vocabulary in one.

The Transformational Solution

In order to elevate our children and put them on a path to a life-long love of learning and reading, we need to fundamentally transform the child’s paradigm. We need to shift the experience from “I can’t read” to the joy of “I can read.” Accelerating our children’s knowledge of vocabulary and building fluency and comprehension, we will have to use a transformational reading method that effectively teaches words and their meanings in minutes, rather than years and at the same, time teaches the parts of the words naturally.

A Reading Breakthrough for All Students

It is possible to teach even the most marginal students to learn to read. The reading method, when used correctly, simplifies reading to its most fundamental elements and treats each word like an image. This transformational reading method creates focus and concentration, provides many repetitions of words and is quickly effective. This transformational method focuses on your child learning 5 new words (each word is learned and memorized as one would with a picture or image), with many repetitions, in one minute, while at the same time, your child learns the phonetic parts of the word naturally. During that time the child becomes focused, concentrated, and in the zone.

Literacy Success in Japan

Treating words as images and using repetition to learn them has benefits. Educational systems, such as those Japan have seen tremendous benefit in doing exactly this. Because of this, Japan boasts a 98-99% literacy rate in the country.  

This transformational reading tutoring method can teach hundreds of words and their meanings and improve the child’s reading grade level 3-6 years in about one year. By using this method, students would see a 6x reading improvement in their reading comprehension over the current educational method.

Take Advantage of The Power of Youthful Minds

The children who would benefit the most from a method that creates a fluent reading style for every child are the youngest, 3-5-year-olds. These children’s minds are like sponges, eager and willing to soak up knowledge. The education system needs to take advantage of early childhood development. The hunger for knowledge is insatiable when you are a pre-schooler. We’ve observed that children absorb a tremendous amount of information if it is presented to them in the right way using a method that creates a fluent reading style. Using such a method would eradicate illiteracy in the United States.

Shifting Paradigms: Building Self Confidence, Self Esteem and The Joy of “I Can Read”

Through the use of repetition, building block development, and a nurturing environment that promotes concentration and focus, we can shift our children’s paradigm from one of frustration to one of success and accomplishment. We can transformationally shift any child from the frustrating feeling of “I Can’t Read” to the joy of “I Can Read.” If you teach a child to read, you can change the world.


  • Michelle has a masters in human psychology and a diploma in biology. She is actively involved in writing about the health and lifestyle issues faced by people. She has been helping people in building a healthier lifestyle and has been working with non-profit organizations for almost a decade.