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Foundational Reading Skills

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Foundational Reading Skills, including phonics and Decoding, refer to skills needed for effective reading comprehension. Adult readers who struggle with Foundational Reading Skills may have difficulty understanding texts and complex language. These skills are essential for individuals to successfully find career pathways, develop new skills, and navigate public and social systems.

Main Ideas

Approximately 20% (36 million) of adults in the U.S. struggle with basic literacy skills. Some individuals may also have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, which compromise Foundational Reading Skills.

There are several component skills that contribute to understanding language at the word level.

  • Phonological Processing refers to knowledge of and ability to process, manipulate, and detect sounds in words.
  • Morphological Knowledge refers to processing and understanding linguistic units, including root words, prefixes, suffixes, intonations, and stress, that convey meaning. It also contributes to the ability to decode individual words and large texts as words become more complex.
  • Orthographic Processing refers to the ability to mentally create, store, and retrieve the visual representations of written words.

As with younger readers, research among adult populations has demonstrated that Vocabulary knowledge and Reading Fluency, including automaticity and prosody, specifically contribute to reading comprehension. These skills, in addition to Inferencing, are essential for adults to build higher-level reading skills and access complex texts across contexts.

Dyslexia is a developmental disorder that presents with difficulties mapping letters to sounds, causing problems with reading and writing including with comprehension and fluency. This can be difficult for adults who rely on literacy for many aspects of their life, particularly if the dyslexia has gone untreated or is undiagnosed. Some adult learners with dyslexia have developed compensatory skills in reading, while others may continue to demonstrate difficulties with Foundational Reading Skills, stemming from underlying issues with Phonological Processing.

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