Jim Yang is the founder of ChildrenLearningReading.com and has extensively researched and developed a proven program to teach your child to read quickly. He taught his own four children how to read starting at age 2 and he will give us tips on how we can successfully teach our own children to read at a very young age!
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Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: Today we’re here with Jim Yang who created a successful program to teach your children to read. He taught his own three children at the age of two and a half to read, and he’ll share his tips and tricks so we can do this for our own children at home.
Jim, thank you so much for being here.
Jim: Thank you for having me here.
Kelly: I was so excited to find your program because I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I did try with my four-year-old to teach him reading when he was two, it didn’t quite work. My daughter seems to really be taking to your method. I would love to have you talk about what technique you actually use to teach children.
Jim: We teach using a combination of synthetic phonics and phonemic awareness. What synthetic phonics is, it’s a very bottoms-up approach where we teach children starting with the most basic and fundamental stuff such as letters, letter sounds, and then we teach them what to do with those sounds.
When we teach a child even just two or three letter sounds, they can start forming the words just using that two or three letter sounds they’ve learned just by connecting the sounds. Most people probably know what phonics is, but not a lot of people might not know about phonemic awareness is. It’s really the foundation on which you can effectively teach phonics. This is completely missing from what you see today where phonemic awareness is really about training the ears. The way we teach a really young child to read is you have to train the ears. It’s almost like learning a new language where if you hear a new language, it’s really difficult to pick up the different sounds. But when you hear it over, over, and over, you start picking up different the sounds even though you may not know what it means.
As far as English goes, when the child starts learning the little sounds in it, they already understand English. But when they get enough practice at hearing different the sounds in English, it becomes really easy to teach them to read. Because at that point, you’re just filling in the little empty spaces teaching the different letters or a combination of letters and then just connecting those together to read most of the words in English.
Kelly: How did you come up with this? I mean why didn’t you not use a method that’s already out there?
Jim: Yes, it’s kind of funny because I actually did try other programs. I actually ended up spending quite a bit of money.
My child was around two years old. It was quite apparent like almost right away that I realized, “Okay, she’s actually not learning to read.” because what ended up happening is yes, she could read the words that she was seeing because we would repeatedly see a word. But when you show the same child a different word that she’s never seen before, how does she figure out what this word is?
From what I understand now compared back then, it was really just a whole language and sight word approach to teaching reading, and that just doesn’t work.
I found the study done by the National Reading Panel where they did a meta study of over 1960’s studies where they repeatedly reference to teaching phonics and phonemic awareness.
What they found was that when you teach phonics and phonemic awareness together, it produces better reading results than whole language programs.At the same time when you combine these two, it also improves the child’s reading, reading comprehension, and also spelling abilities. That’s what really set me on the path of teaching phonics and phonemic awareness.
Kelly: Tell us again, what exactly what is phonemic awareness?
Jim: Phonemic awareness is really just learning to work with the smallest sounds in English. For example, if we think of a word, let’s say think. Even though it’s made of five letters, t, h, i, n, k, but knowing that think has t, h, i, n, k in it is not going to help me read it because the letter names does not really help me to sound it out, whereas if I know that, okay, here, “th” together makes the unvoiced /th/ sound and the “i” makes the /i/ sound and the “n” makes the /n/ sound and the “k” makes the /k/ sound. Then we can string those together to say /t//h//i//n//k/. That’s why phonemic awareness is so important.
A lot of times, even though you teach a child phonics, you teach them the letters, but they might not know what to do with those sounds because especially for the younger, usually what I found is between ages two to five, they tend to have a little more problem and difficulties with stringing sounds together, whereas if I’m working with a six, seven, or eight year old that’s a struggling reader, they’re actually much better at phonemic awareness. That’s why it is so important when you work with a two-year-old, four-year-old, or any age, I guess, to teach them phonemic awareness so that they know what to do when you teach them these sounds because just teaching the letter sounds is not enough.
Kelly: That’s why sight reading is bad because you’re just memorizing the sight. You’re not learning like you said.
Jim: When you try to teach every word as a sight word in English, then it becomes very problematic because there are over 170,000 words in English. Are you going to have a three, four, five, six, seven, or even an adult to try to memorize all those words? No, you’re not.
There are these sight words listed. Dolch’s list has 300 sight words, and there’s a Fry’s list of a thousand sight words. If you try to memorize 300 words, okay, it’s not too bad, it’s doable. How about a thousand words? Or how about 3,000 words, which is really needed to be able to read 95% of all common texts?
The way you think about it English is an alphabet-based language where we have these individual letters or a combination of letters representing sounds. The way you combine these sounds together, you can figure out what a word is. But the way you try to teach it through sight words method, you’re really teaching a child to look it as a picture.
Can you imagine trying to memorize 3,000 words even if you have a lot of words that have similar shapes? That’s going to cause a lot of reading confusion. This is where a lot [00:08:00] of the reading problems stem from with many of the older kids that I work with.
Let me give you a few examples. If you think of the words bar, born, burn, if you draw it like a shape around those words, they’re going to look very similar to a child that does not know phonics or phonemic awareness. Or how about hurt, hunt, and bunt? Another good one is three, there, these. I have tons of examples like these. This is why when you just teach sight words without teaching phonics and phonemic awareness is why you have a lot of children with reading problems.
Kelly: It’s because when they’re younger, they were taught more by sight, and it turns into problems later?
Jim: Yes. if you look at a word and there are letters in it that represent different sounds, what ends up happening is that they have to resort to looking at the word as a picture. It’s almost like learning Chinese. I’m Chinese, but my Chinese is really bad because when I look at all the words, so many of them they look so similar, and I have a lot of trouble trying to figure out what a word is because they all look so similar.
The same thing is happening with the grade one, grade two kids that I work with that are struggling with reading where they really have a lot of problems figuring what a word is because they all have a lot of similar shapes. What ends up happening is they end up skipping words, guessing words. These are strategies that teachers teach at school too.
It’s unfortunate because it does a lot of bad habits in these kids. When I get these kids before I teach them and during when I’m teaching them, I have to work to undo all these bad habits that they’ve learned.
A thing about being a parent of a child that can’t read, it’s really, really stressful. I don’t have to go through this myself, but I’ve gone through this with enough parents that I know, and I can see what it’s doing to them because they’re literally pulling their hair out.
I live in Vancouver, and in Vancouver, when you have a student that is behind in a certain subject, they get pulled out of their class and the get put in LST, which stands for Learning Support Team. they get pulled out, and they’re thinking, “Okay, I’m getting pulled out because I cannot do something the other kids in my class can.” Just think of what kind of damage this does to the confidence.
I see it in the kids too because they’re totally bright smart kids, but they can’t read because of how reading is taught at schools. It’s not the parent’s fault. It’s not the child’s fault. It’s how reading is taught is fault, right?
when I get these kids, usually after the first two weeks, I go through our program with them, they start understanding right away, “Okay, I don’t have to memorize words. I can figure out what a word is.” When I first get them, I do an assessment with them. I get them to read through this, and they look at the words. What ends up happening is they’re guessing all over the place. They will just think whatever makes sense to them. It’s completely not what they see.
As they go through our program, sometimes even just after one or two weeks, they start stopping themselves when they make a mistake. They look at the word, they don’t guess, and they try to sound it out. This is something really awesome to see because if a child does not have the phonics knowledge and the phonemic awareness, they’re not going to stop themselves. They’ll just guess; they skip over it.
But once they start developing this little bit of knowledge, they stop themselves because they know inside that, “Okay, what I’m saying does not quite match with what I expected to hear.” They stop, they look at the word, they sound it out, and then there you go, they got the correct reading. They feel great about themselves. Usually after about, as with the grade ones, grade twos, after about 8 to 10 weeks, they’ve done my program, they’re caught up. Their parents, they’re extremely happy.
Speaker 2: Do you think that smart children read more or does reading make you smart?
Jim: I think reading makes you smart because I think when we have a little child that learns to read early and that reads a lot because they’ve learn to read early – between the ages I would say between three to five, three to six – it’s a long time, three years. Imagine how much more information this child would gather, how much more vocabulary, how much more world knowledge they will be able to gather just through reading compared to another child that waits to read until they enter school. If you compare that, it’s a huge difference.
Kelly: I think it’s amazing, just watching
Kelly: Right. Especially kids, two-year-olds don’t even know a thousand words often times. How did you know that your kids were ready to read at two?
Jim: It’s funny because I had no idea that they were ready. I just wanted to try and see if I can do it. I have four kids. With my three younger ones, I know I was ready because I had the experience with the first one.
With my three younger ones, it was little different because I did something a little different with my second child because of the difficulty that I had with my oldest especially during the first two weeks when I couldn’t figure out whether she was catching on to blending or not. When my second child was around one and a half years old, I started doing some phonemic awareness training with him. It’s just really basic ear training where during everyday speech.
I would just pick a random word here and there. I would just sound it out segmented sometimes. I would blend it. I would stretch it out. I was even comparing. I would just pick the words. I would say, “Ethan, come here.”
At first, you he would look at you funny because it doesn’t make sense to him, and he’s like, “What are you saying?” We also use some nightly reading with him every night. During simple passages, if I can just find a simple three, four letter word, I’ll segment that word. I’ll blend it, stretch it out, just get him to use to it. At one and a half years old, I just wanted to see if I could help the child develop some phonemic awareness before I actually even started any phonics with him.
I just kept this up. I wasn’t sure he was going to catch on or not. After about I think, say like a month or two, he started catching on. It was really amazing because when I read him at night; let’s say I was reading a passage, say, “The dog jump.” I would go, “The dog ju-umped.”
At first, when we first started, he would be like, “Huh?” But after a while, I will wait. I will say, “The dog ju-umped.” He would say, “…jumped”. He would know what word I started saying. I was like, “Hey, he’s getting it. It’s great.”
Kelly: what’s the difference of blending and choppy blending when you’re doing? Can you give us an example because I feel like you need to kind of practice as a parent to even be able to teach your child.
Jim: if the parent is lacking some phonemic phonics knowledge where you don’t know what sound a letter makes or if what a combination of letter make a sound, it’s going to be a little bit difficult. Our program teaches that and our program also includes 42 audio clips where I demonstrate to parents the proper pronunciation of the sounds and at the same time how to blend those sounds together. That’s really helpful for parents.
Jim: I wouldn’t say doing choppy blending is incorrect because there is a place for both smooth blending and choppy blending. Now, most of the time, I do use smooth blending because it is very important that the child understand that you need to make a smooth connection between each of the letter sounds, whereas what tends to happen if you just use choppy blending all the time where you have a distinct stop between sounds.
For example, we’re doing the word dog. You would go /d/, /o/, /g/ where you have a distinct stop between each sound. That could cause some problems for some children especially where they’re weaker in the phonemic awareness area. They will have a hard time trying to connect those sounds together. If you do smooth blending and do it like, /d//o//g/, where you connect, where you try your best to connect each of the sounds in to the following sound, it will make it easier for the child to learn and to string the sounds together to say the word.
Kelly: When you’re teaching, say to a two-year-old read, can they really understand what the word means? I saw your kids get it. You three or four-year-old was reading a menu at a restaurant, which is amazing, but do they actually really comprehend what they’re reading?
Jim: Yes. If the word that they’re reading is within their vocabulary and it’s within their knowledge, then yes they will understand. If the words they’re reading are way above their level, they’ve never seen that word, then no, of course, they’re not going to understand what they’re reading.
Now, we’re getting a little bit in to reading comprehension here. It’s largely a function of two things. Number one is decoding and word recognition. And number two is vocabulary and knowledge.
When we talk about decoding and word recognition ability is, for a child to be able to read and understand what they’re reading, their decoding and word recognition ability needs to be really, really fluent. When they look at a word, they need to know instantly what the word is without spending too much brain power to try to figure out what a word is.
Because if a child is looking at a bunch of text and then looking at the words, but they’re spending so much effort trying to figure out what that word is, they’re not going to have that much processing power left over to really think about the meaning of the words and the meaning of the sentences that they’re reading, right? But whereas if a child has really fluent reading ability, they have really good word recognition, and if the words that they’re reading are within the vocabulary knowledge, then yes, they will be able to understand what they’re reading.
The thing is you can actually help a child improve their reading and comprehension just by repeatedly reading the same story over and over and over. Kids don’t get bored of it. My youngest right now, she got this soup book from her preschool. Then every night, she would have me read that book for the past two weeks like I’m so sick of it, but she’s like, “No, I want my soup book.”
Kelly: Why do you think people don’t recommend children to read until later? What’s wrong with teaching someone to read early?
Jim: Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with it. This is not something I spend a long time dwelling on, but I know there are some people giving me advice saying that you shouldn’t teach your kid to read until their five, six, or some even later, seven, eight. I can’t figure out why.
The way I look at it is why do I want to deny my child the opportunity of all the extra learning and information gathering that’s made available to them when they learn to read in their early age. We have a three-, four-, five-year-old that’s a fluent reader. Just imagine how much more information they can gather from the environment around them.
You’re totally empowering your child when you teach them to read early, right? Let me give you some example. A few years ago in Canada, Target came to Canada, but I guess they weren’t doing that well back then, I think it was back in 2014, they were closing down.
I was driving by with my second child, my son. At that time, he was I think around five. There was this big red sign that says, “Store closing. Liquidation. Everything must go.” And then my son read that up. He’s like, “Hey dad. What does liquidation mean?”
When you think about that what three-, four-, or five-year-old would know about liquidation? They wouldn’t know it, but how do you give vocabulary? How do you build your vocabularies?
The way you build it is by seeing it on a text your read. Yes, you develop your initial vocabulary through speech just by speaking at home hearing your family. All the more advance vocabulary, it all comes from reading.
We have this little five-year-old that can read liquidation and the whole thing. It’s really interesting to watch.
Kelly: Do you think you could teach any two-year-old to read? My daughter, for example, started talking extremely early, and she actually asked me to read. When she turned two, she kept saying, “I want to learn to read.” She was asking. She has a very strong vocabulary, but some two-year-olds don’t, I mean.
Jim: Yes, I’m pretty confident that I can teach any two- or three-year-old to read, or any age as long as they don’t have any learning disabilities. My personal preference is to work with a four to five age group because they’re the easiest. They tend to have a little more attention span, and they tend to catch on a little faster, whereas if you’re working with a two or three-year-old, they’re going to be running around. They’re not going to sit on your lap nicely for even just three minutes. It’s really a struggle sometimes.
With our reading program, I recorded a 12 week period of me working with my son, Ethan, just starting from scratch from lesson number one and over a 12 week period. When you watch the videos early on, he’s really just doing what you would expect a two-and-a-half-year-old child to do. He’s running around, screaming, yelling, and stuff.
My personal preference is to work with a four- or five-year-olds because they’re like a really nice blank piece of paper where they haven’t take up any bad habits or learned any improper pronunciation of sounds from school that I have to fix. It’s really easy teaching them, and they have really good attention span too.
Kelly: Your own children how well they’re reading. It’s very inspiring. Where can people go for more information about your reading program?
Jim: They can learn more about my reading program at childrenlearningreading.com.
Kelly: I really appreciate you coming on and sharing. I think it is such an important skill, and I think that more people should be able to help their children learn sooner than later.
Jim: That was great. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on your show.
Kelly: Yes, thank you.
About Jim Yang
Jim Yang, a father, a reading teacher, and the creator of the Children Learning Reading program, explains that his system is based on a codex of proven techniques that can show parents how to take advantage of a small child’s extreme intelligence and learning capabilities when passing on this important skill. It is a systematic and unique program that is based on phonics and phonemic awareness, which is designed to teach children as young as 2-3 years old to read.
According to Jim Yang, the most crucial years in a child’s development are the first seven – with cognitive function reaching its peak at 2 – 3 years of age. It is this crucial period that must be taken advantage of to cultivate healthy brain growth and academic development.
Jim Yang also explains that the success of passing on this important skill at these years is an important first step in the development of future performance and intelligence – in terms of reading and literacy skills.