chapter  2
Learning to read: General principles and writing system variations
Pages 26

In learning to read, what is it that one learns? Reading educators have stressed the goal of learning to read in variations around meaning; e.g. learning to construct meaning, to get meaning from print, to comprehend. Although the goal of reading is indeed to obtain meaning from written language, this falls short of specifying what is actually learned. One general answer to the question of what is learned in learning to read was proposed by Perfetti & Zhang (1995): learning to read is learning how one’s writing system encodes one’s language. This claim reflects the view that reading is fundamentally about converting graphic input (letters, words, characters) to linguistic-conceptual objects (words, morphemes, and their associated concepts). Moreover, what really forces this view of learning to read is the fact that the world presents learners with different writing systems. In what sense is learning to read in English like learning to read in Korean, Arabic, or Chinese? Each language is written in one or more distinctive graphic forms. In each case, the graphic forms are different in appearance and in how they connect to the language. What they have in common is that the learner must figure out how the graphic forms work-how they map onto the learner’s spoken language.