An Introduction to My Method for Teaching Reading, Particularly to Dyslexic Readers
By Daniella De Winter
Language development, especially in a second language, depends mostly on the ability to read. Reading is a goal in itself, but more importantly, it is a tool which helps achieve language fluency. The inability to read immeasurably complicates and delays language acquisition, resulting in frustration and lack of confidence in both the process and overall.
I firmly believe that every person should be able to read. When we don’t read, we give up one of our most important senses, sight, and in turn, rely only on our hearing, making things more difficult for us to understand, learn and retain.
Reading should be developed as an automatic skill, freeing the mind to achieve greater understanding. The more effort invested in the “decoding” process, the less the mind is free to understand what is being read. Additionally, the immediacy of automatic decoding improves the students’ memory, allowing them to retain the meaning of new words more easily and for longer terms. It is within these parameters of process that I have developed the SoftRead method.
SoftRead is a combination of phonetic and pattern-based approaches. It involves intensive, repetitive pre-reading exercises to train the eye and engage visual comprehension, then later links between the visual and the audial output of the letters. Because it is not designed in the style traditionally used with younger students, it is therefore suitable for all ages.
From 1975 I have worked in conveying and developing new methods to teach the English language. I started by teaching adults, where the pedagogical approach to the English teaching necessarily had to be both highly practical and time efficient. Some of my students had language-based learning difficulties, which meant that the traditional language teaching approach did not work for them. I needed to develop a new, down-to-earth method that would suit both native and non-native speakers. It was clear, from the very beginning, that the easiest and fastest way to master a language was through the ability to read. One of the most distinctive features of the SoftRead method, therefore, is that it can teach even students with dyslexia how to read in a very short period of time and, perhaps more significantly, can help prevent dyslexia before it even develops in the students.
For dyslexic students, one of the main barriers to successful reading is their inability to break down sounds into smaller units, or syllables. In other words, they are unable to analyze and synthesize these sounds as individual units, instead seeing new words only as the larger, impossible whole. Reading, therefore, becomes a titanic task which they cannot accomplish and, quickly, frustration arises, the gap in comprehension widens, and the inability to retain new information hampers the learning process.
Over time, and as my own children were growing up, I developed the SoftRead method for young children, both with and without learning difficulties. As it turns out, everyone can learn to read. During my experiences with SoftRead, there has not been one person that did not succeed with my method. In fact, the only difference throughout use of the SoftRead materials has been the needed learning time. Some people have learned in merely five lessons, while some have achieved literacy in ten or more. However, overall, the outstanding achievement was that everyone, even people who had lost hope, could finally read!
By 2000, SoftRead was already out. In 2013, I decided to publish all the knowledge that I had gained over the years in a creative, accessible way that enabled anyone to learn English. The resulting SoftEnglish collection of books and games is intended to promote independent learning. Teachers are considered facilitators, rather than instructors, in the learning process. The underlining purpose, that students be able to do most of the learning and practicing on their own, will always guarantee better understanding and long term memory despite any personal difficulties, and will ultimately open the world of reading to more and more students with time.