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Let's Read: A Linguistic Approach

Clarence L Barnhart, Leonard Bloomfield, Cynthia A. Barnhart, Robert K Barnhart · 5 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
Originally published in 1961, Let's Read is a simple and systematic way to teach basic reading. Developed by noted linguist Leonard Bloomfield, the book is based on the alphabetic spelling patterns of English. Bloomfield offered an antidote to the idea that English is a difficult language to learn to read by teaching the learner to decode the phonemic sound-letter correlations of the language in a sequential, logical progression of lessons based on its spelling patterns. The learner is first introduced to the most consistent (alphabetic) vocabulary and then to increasingly less alphabetic and less frequent spelling patterns within a vocabulary of about 5,000 words. The second edition of Let's Read brings Bloomfield's innovative program into the twenty-first century without changing the sequence of exercises but with revised text and an attractive new design and layout. Authors Cynthia A. Barnhart and Robert K. Barnhart, who have long been involved with Let's Read, have refined the original edition with new vocabulary and content based on feedback from longtime users. The new edition lightens the first learning load by presenting lengthy patterns in two lessons rather than one, adding more connected reading and new vocabulary, and introducing some sight words earlier in the sequence. The authors have also added a list of multisyllable words at the end of part 1 that fall within the patterns of the first lessons, and they have added some longer stories later in the program. The notes introducing each part of Let's Read have also been revised to be more informative, and new illustrations have been added. Let's Read not only teaches users to read English based on spelling patterns but simultaneously reduces the emphasis on pronunciation to teach letter sounds, making it useful for bilingual and nonnative English speakers as well. Parents, reading teachers, tutors, as well as ESL teachers and adult literacy instructors will be interested in the second edition of Let's Read.
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May 28, 2021 · progers7 on Eric Carle has died
Thanks for the recommendation. If this comment piqued anyone else's interest, as it did mine, there is an updated version of Bloomfield's Let’s Read:

There is some discussion of the differences in the two editions in as well as the reviews on Amazon. I am going to give the updated version a try.

I think this is the thread where I should recommend the best book to teach reading: Let's Read, a Linguistic Approach

I got the recommendation here in HN and I used the book with my 2 daughters. I started with my first daughter when she was 4.5 years old. I started with my second daughter at an older age because she was showing a slight case of dyslexia. It took 2 years to finish the book with each of them. After they were done they could read everything. My second daughter is 9 and is almost done with Oliver Twist. Read this comment by tokenadult:

I also used this book with both my sons. It worked amazingly. The oldest one is one of the best readers in the state if the assessment is to be believed. I suspect a lot of the value is the time with the parent actually doing the work of teaching. But the book itself is arranged in such a way that the reading patterns are highlighted and reinforced.
When our first son was three years old we would stick his high chair in front of the TV at lunch time, give him food, and turn on a Leap Frog phonics DVD. We had three: 1) Letter Factory, 2) Talking Words Factory, and 3) Talking Words Factory II. Our son absolutely loved these and wanted to watch them over and over again every day. Within about four months he started spontaneously reading things like the sign in a business window that says "open". Within a year or so he could read whole children's books. I couldn't believe it. With our next son, we waited patiently until he was three and tried it again: same result. The only other thing we did (which took much more effort) was read them bedtime stories every night before bed. With that, we had two boys reading before they started school. I can't recommend these DVDs enough.
Honestly I bet it doesn't matter what products or setup you use - sounds like you as parents made words and reading a ever-present part of the environment. I'm 98% sure that general atmosphere is important and has big results, regardless of the fine specifics of technique & etc. But that's just my intuition
I also got the recommendation for that book from HN; specifically from a user who maintains this site:

We used it with our son, with fantastic results. He’s now almost seven and reads voraciously.

Edit: on review, I got the rec from the same user you did. Years later and I’m even more grateful he shared that book here.

Is there a similar book for French or German?
Isn't it too early Oliver Twist at 9? I read it in my 40s and found it quite frightening
I was probably exposed to (mostly in film, not reading) Dickens, including Twist, at around that age. When kids are young enough, they aren't so frightened by that sort of thing because they simply don't get it. They know the words that are being used, but they don't really understand the real-world situations and insinuations that the words convey.
I would appreciate links to similarly helpful tools for early childhood education for any subject (or language).

"Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" has been recommended ancedata-ly to me.

I've also anecdotally heard good things regarding "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" -- does anyone have direct experience with both that book and "Let's Read: A Linguistic Approach" (and if so, a recommendation for one over the other)?
I'm currently using "Teach your Child to read in 100 Easy Lessons." with my 3 year old. He hasn't had trouble with the reading, but a few of the exercises were too long for him.

It uses the DISTAR method which seems to have the most empirical evidence supporting it. (The controversy over DISTAR appears to me to be that it's boring for the teacher)

I used it on two kids. They now both score on standardized tests as reading far in advance of their grade level. This leads to difficulties wherein much of the material available at their level of technical proficiency does not match with either their maturity levels or with their specific interests.

Neither of them actually finished all 100 lessons. At some point, they both preferred moving on to actual books rather than doing the remaining lessons. So a little boring for the student as well, apparently.

I had the same exact experience with 2 of my sons. Will start the third (5) on it (Teach Your Child to Read...) this summer.
I concur. We used that book to teach three of our children to read at ages 3 to 4 and it is mind numbing. It worked for our kids though. One of them was reading "The Hobbit" when she was 5 years old and except for being a professional musician she's more or less a normal young adult now.
Not quite the same kind of tool but you might enjoy
There are better sources than that on precocity in young children. I'll have to find some references for you. (They may not be found in time for the edit window of this comment, so feel free to write me off-forum if you would like those.)

In general, early reading is less remarkable (in English) than people think it is, because with the right materials[1] English can be seen by a young learner as a rather consistent writing system that is not insuperably hard to decode.

That said, my four homeschooled children, the first two of whom are strongly bilingual in Chinese and English, having lived in Taiwan in early childhood, were early but not strikingly precocious readers, and all my children were learning a lot of other things besides reading in their early childhood, of which chess was perhaps more conspicuously precocious than reading. Earliness is less important than long-term solid development of skill, and it sounds like the parents of some of the HN participants here who have personally observed examples of very precocious reading were well aware of that.


I see that the submitted article, and many of the interesting comments in this busy thread, relate to the issue of the bizarre spelling patterns of English. As a native speaker of General American English (the dialect of English I recommend to foreign learners of English ;) ), I have two perspectives on this.

1) As a parent of English-speaking children, I thought it was VITAL that they learn well the main consistent sound-symbol correspondence rules of English spelling. (This is called "phonics" in the context of teaching reading to native speakers of English.) My favorite book recommendation for this is Let's Read: A Linguistic Approach, by linguist Leonard Bloomfield and lexicographer Clarence Barnhart. All four of my children learned to read well with this book. The book is now in a second edition

prepared by a second generation of the Barnhart family. Learning to read with an approach like this is dialect-friendly (the book is specifically organized to take into account dialect differences, at least within American English) and systematic for understanding what is consistent in English spelling and what is not.

2) As for spelling reform in English, I think it was HN user gnosis who once shared a very interesting link

about English spelling reform by a commentator who knows linguistics well. English spelling reform is often desired by native speakers of the language, but it is a tough problem. See what the link has to say about various proposals for spelling reform.

Ben, I didn't realize you had a child of just that age. Please allow me to recommend to you and to other HN participants who surf by who are parents of children learning to read the best--bar none--approach to initial reading instruction in English for native speakers of English. It has worked for all four of my children, including the three who spent significant parts of their childhood in a mostly Chinese-speaking environment (reducing their exposure to English speech and English printed materials). The book Let's Read, a Linguistic Approach

by Leonard Bloomfield (an eminent linguist and pioneer of new methods of teaching hard-to-learn languages) and Clarence L. Barnhart (a lexicographer) has now been revised by Cynthia A. Barnhart and Robert K. Barnhart (I presume they are the original co-author's children). I used the first edition, and can recommend it UNRESERVEDLY. The first edition appears to no longer be in print, and some Amazon reviewers say they prefer the first edition, but the second edition, currently available, surely is better than the great mass of school materials used for English reading instruction. How I used the book is to set a goal of somewhere between one lesson a day and six or seven pages a day, and then read each lesson out loud to my child, with my child then reading the lesson back to me, with adaptation earlier in the book to do the reading and reading back a sentence at a time, and near the end of the book for the child to read by himself or herself without me reading first. All my children are strong readers who love to read. You'll find that this book, under Bloomfield's pedagogical influence, makes good use of spaced repetition of the key sound-symbol correspondences in Engish. But this is reading connected text, rather than just looking at flash cards, and the stories are remarkably interesting for their carefully graded vocabulary.

More details if you like. My main online involvement in the early 1990s was discussion of optimal reading instruction approaches for United States schools, but now I've discovered that mathematics education needs at least as much help, and have shifted focus to that. But I could provide (old) links to rationale for this approach if you like, and anyway an ounce of inexpensive prevention is worth a pound of expensive cure when helping a child's initial reading instruction prevents future reading and spelling difficulties. And kudos to you for continuing to read aloud to your child as he learns to read. Not reading to children beyond school age is one of the big missed opportunities in many middle-class families.

Aside to other participants: I'm wondering how many people who have used flash cards for foreign language learning have put their languages to the test in a country where those languages are spoken. I have studied many languages (I think there is a partial list in my user profile), and what I have observed over and over is how each language maps reality in a different way, so that ones rarely correspond one-to-one in the manner expected by flashcards. I much preferred learning to read Chinese, for example, by using the excellent Chinese Reader series by John DeFrancis

through which I first learned about Bloomfield's approach to foreign language teaching. (DeFrancis was a student of Bloomfield's.)

Do you have a similar recommendation for German for native english speaking adults? Beyond terrible high school education in spanish, this would be my primary L2.
I must add my experience with this wonderful book. My daughter is 5.3 years old. She started with this book when she was 4.6 years old. Before that she only knew the names of the letters. She is now at lesson 95 (out of more than 250) and she can read very well (she is reading books like Frog and Toad etc.) I intend to finish the whole book before her sixth birthday by which time I am sure she will be an excellent reader.

The way we work with the book is that I will read the first 2 or 3 words on the page and then she tries to read the rest. I help when help is needed. In a good day she can read about 95% of the text without any help. The reason for this is because the text is organized in an excellent way. There is only one new rule introduced in a lesson and the child can figure it out the from the first few words and can take it from there. In fact I have found that quite often when my daughter cannot read a word, it is because she has lost focus and forgot how she read the words that came before. We go back a few words and reread them and suddenly the new word that she could not read, now is easy.

One characteristic of this book that I haven't seen other people mention is that the book is great for non-native speaker teachers like myself. Before I started with this book I got another book that used the phonetics method. But I couldn't start teaching my daughter with that book because I couldn't make the phonetic sounds correctly myself. With Bloomfield's book there is no worry for me because I do not need to make any sounds, just read a few words when my daughter cannot read them.

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