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The Science of Reading

Ms Reed Jessie

Freelance Writer

Birmingham, UK


The ability to read is fundamental to achieving life skills and performing one’s roles within society. The World Economic Forum states how global literacy rates have increased over the past two centuries, from 12% in 1820 to 87% today. While regional inequalities remain, it shows that the undeniable role and significance of reading continue to increase over time. But how exactly do we learn to read, and how does improved reading benefit us?

How the brain processes reading

The simple view of reading can be expressed in a formula proposed by Philip Gough and William Turner in 1986: RC (Reading Comprehension) = D (Decoding) x Language Comprehension (LC). In other words, reading requires us to recognize printed words and sound them out, while also being able to comprehend the meaning of these words and sentences.

A number of brain regions are involved in how we progress from simply processing sounds as infants to finally mastering the ability to read in childhood and adulthood. To illustrate, the temporal lobe is responsible for discriminating individual sounds from one another, while Broca’s area in the frontal lobe allows us to translate our thoughts into speech and use simply to complex grammar. Lastly, the angular and supramarginal gyrus link the different parts of the brain so we can connect letters together and form words.

How we can improve our reading ability

Beyond formal language and literature classes that aim to build on our reading proficiency, we can make use of technological tools to sharpen our processing skills and to better engage with what we read. As an ever-expanding virtual library, Scribd provides on-demand access to a wide range of resources, thus allowing readers of all ages and skill levels to find the kind of material that interests them. It is inclusive and accessible, with ebooks and articles that you can read on your own as well as audiobooks and podcasts to enhance comprehension and provide a model for fluent reading.

While text-to-speech readers can serve as assistive technology for people with impaired vision, they can also be leveraged for better word recognition, retention, and attention span. Text-to-speech reader Natural Reader reads back text in various voices and styles instead of relying on a single synthesized voice, making the process more authentic and effective. Since the use of a specific language can also alter the way a word is spoken or pronounced, the tool can convert text to speech across 18 different languages. Lastly, it has features for controlling the speed of delivery and editing pronunciations.

How reading benefits us

Reading has both short-term and long-term effects on brain performance and functions. An article by Jessica Stillman published in Inc. explains how reading isn’t simply a way to fill our brain with information, but can also reinforce our ability to focus and grasp complex ideas and problems. In terms of igniting our neural pathways and rewiring how our brain works in the long term, reading increases our verbal memory and thickens the information highway that bridges the brain’s left and right hemispheres.

Beyond cognitive functioning and self-improvement, reading also facilitates lifelong learning. A previous article by Kyle Meyers emphasizes that the core purposes of learning can also inform why reading remains essential to our lives. What we learn from reading does not only teach us what to think but more importantly what to do. Beyond digesting information and absorbing knowledge, learning through reading opens up opportunities for critical analysis and encourages us to have thoughtful discussions with other people.

Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, stories or news articles that we end up reading, reading ultimately cultivates our empathy—our ability to relate to other people and understand their experiences and perspectives even if these may differ from our own. A turn of a page may not fix the world’s problems in an instant, but it can make the world a more empathetic and compassionate place.

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