Childhood memories

Learning how to read is very difficult. I say that from personal experience, because I remember very well the confusion and frustration of the beginning of my reading career. But I was pretty determined about it; my little four-year-old self knew that the ability to read would give me power and skills beyond my wildest dreams and would immediately catapult me into the world of big-kid-ness. As it turned out, I was more or less right about that, but the actual process of learning how to read was so challenging and took so long that even now, I’m kind of proud of my younger self for accomplishing it.

The ability to read requires certain advanced cognitive abilities because it involves translating marks on paper to verbal sounds to complete ideas. For someone who has just started learning how to read, every single letter is a test of memorization skills. To read an entire word is already an accomplishment that demonstrates good retention and intelligence. It would be difficult enough even if a person could take a few seconds to think about each letter, but that just isn’t the way it’s done. An average person reads about 200 to 250 words per minute, which is 3  1/3 to 4  1/6 words per second. We’re all accustomed to doing that by the time we’ve known how to read for a few years, but if you think about it, that’s pretty amazingly fast. And that’s just average. Apparently, it’s not extremely rare to be able to read as many as 700 words per minute, with decent comprehension. That’s 11  2/3 words per second, which really doesn’t seem like it even should be humanly possible. In most cases, we all learn how to do that when we’re still small children and we don’t improve much even later in the educational process. (Note: I got those numbers by looking at various internet pages, some of which were more reliable than others. Pretty much everyplace agrees about the average reading speed, but the maximum seems to be a matter of contention, probably because there are so many internet speed-reading courses that want people to believe that they’ll be able to learn to read faster than is really possible. 700 is definitely possible, but I wasn’t sure if I could trust the source that said 1000, and I highly doubt the sources that gave even bigger numbers.)

Of course, the main reason that people need to learn how to read when they’re small children, even though it’s very intellectually challenging, is that we need to know how to read in order to learn other things. Although it’s commonly understood that the most effective way to learn is through a variety of methods, including verbal instruction and the method commonly known as ‘just do it’, academia relies heavily upon reading because written text is capable of cramming lots of information into a small space, allowing you to quickly and efficiently stuff as much of it into your brain as your brain can possibly hold. Or, to put it more concisely, reading goes faster than a teacher’s voice. (And way faster than personal experience)

Pictured Above: A clever little kid
(This picture is about three years old. She’s not that little anymore.)

I think there’s another reason that it’s best for people to learn to read when they’re still quite young. Little kids are very, very clever. People tend to think of children as being incapable of much intelligent thought, but that’s just because it takes time for someone to accumulate factual knowledge, to figure out how to express their thought process, and to gain enough experience to acquire specific skills. The most significant kind of intelligence, though, is the ability to learn, and little kids are undoubtedly experts at that. Children have brains like sponges. If you don’t believe me, find a random kid and quickly teach him or her a song. Then run away with your hands over your ears, because that child will probably sing that song over and over and over again, leaving you wondering in annoyance how someone could possibly memorize something that thoroughly in such a short time. (If you can’t find a little kid to sing to, or if you don’t feel like it, you can take my word for it, because I have a bunch of younger siblings who were little kids not so long ago, and I am speaking from direct observational experience when I say that little kids pick up songs the way ceiling fans pick up dust.)

See how smart I am now?
In my defense, I was trying to do it very fast.

As hard as it was for me to learn to read when I was four and five years old, I expect it would have been even harder if I had to learn when I was older. I certainly don’t think I could do it now. I more or less take it for granted now that I know how to read, but if I stop and think about it, it’s a really amazing skill that seems like it should require exceptional ingenuity to learn, and I am sadly lacking in ingenuity, exceptional or otherwise. If I’m technically more intelligent than a little kid, it’s only because everything I’ve learned in the past fifteen or sixteen years has just been built on the foundations of things that my genius little kid brain learned back when I was a genius little kid.