Learning To Read

What is the process of learning to read? There are 4 skills for decoding language that children develop as they first begin reading. These 4 phases include the: pre-alphabetic, partial alphabetic, full alphabetic and consolidated alphabetic phases.

“It is useful for teachers and parents to remind themselves that reading is a constructive process aimed at comprehension” (Bruning, 2018, p. 245).

Listed below are defined notes of these phases. It’s clear that the aim of learning to read is to comprehend what has been read. This won’t happen over night and the English language takes 4-7 years to learn (unlike Norweigen that takes 10 weeks!). With this in mind it’s great for parents to value daily reading. Print exposure in early childhood sets up long-term memory for retrieval in formal education.

Phonemes are the sounds that letters make that have meaning. Gradual phonemic awareness (metalinguistic capability) will give your child the understanding that phonemes are individual and separable speech sounds and the hope is that they will eventually manipulate them with expertise.

“Phonemic awareness is crucial to learning how to read and write” (Bruning, p. 239).

Pre-Alphabetic Phase

Pre-readers have little or no skill in decoding

  • Primarily responding to their environment and not to the print
  • Cannot ‘read’
  • Novice visual word/letter features. Linking a words look to the meaning.

Partial Alphabetic Phase

  • Process letter-sound relations
  • Use phonetic cues when reading
  • Focusing on the characteristics of the words
  • Pronunciation

Full Alphabetic Phase

  • Use phonemic information to distinguish among similar spelled words and read them with reasonably high accuracy.
  • Learn new words by making connections between letters in spelling and phonemes in pronunciation.
  • They understand the alphabetic principle.
  • English mastering of 40 phonemes with letters and letter combinations.

Consolidated Alphabetic Phases

  • Increasing experiences with letter patterns that appear in different words (happen, happy).
  • Consolidate letter phoneme relationships into longer units.
  • Rhymes, syllables and whole words become units.
  • No longer chunking words (‘printing’ isn’t ‘print-ing’).

Today phonics is fading out of schools and for the better. It’s an outdated reading resource and will eventually be fazed out for phonemic awareness curriculum’s.

The best thing we can do, as parents, is give our children as much print exposure to real world letters and books so that we prepared for our children’s preliteracy learning.


Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. & Norby, M. M. (2018). Cognitive psychology and instruction (5th Ed). Pearson.

Ehri, L. C. (2005). Learning to read words: theory findings and issues. Scientific Studies Of Reading, 9, 166-188.