Who Is Talking?
How does it work?
How do I use it?
Before you start
Phonics vs Whole Language
Why a Patent?
Is RTR an invention?
Just an experiment?
Plans and Hopes
What did I discover?
I found that the behaviorism that turned me away from psychology in 1962 had
been swept into a small corner of the field by 1999.
The big break happened
when Noam Chomsky showed that infants acquire language at such a rapid rate
that the behaviorists' stimulus-response type learning could not conceivably
explain it. Chomsky postulated a special mental mechanism called a
"Language Acquisition Device" (LAD)
to account for the rapid learning.
I found that even before an infant begins to talk, and even before birth, the
basis for language is being established.
We know that:
1) A newborn
can already discriminate between his own language and others, and
can tell one phoneme from another.
2) The 4-month-old
coos and plays with vocal sounds, and the 6-month-old
begins to babble using sounds and single syllables that are characteristic of
its own language and no other.
3) Between 6 and 12 months
, babbled syllables are strung together, and are
used in a conversational pattern; gestures are used for communication.
4) Between 12 and 18 months
, the infant will produce single-word utterances,
and comprehend 50+ words.
5) By about age 2
, new words are being learned at the surprising rate of about
a word a day, and two-word utterances appear, with three-word strings and
complex grammatical usages appearing in the next couple of years.
Most parents know this, or soon learn it.
But I was shocked to learn that
infants raised in families where sign language was the primary means of
communication began to babble in signs at the same age that others began to
babble spoken sounds!
This shows two things that are central to the RTR method of early reading
The language acquisition device is a
acquisition device, which will seize whatever means it finds to enable the
infant to communicate.
The LAD can use visual input and gestural output
to build communication
just as well as it can use hearing input and speech output
infants can recognize visual input to be communication, it seems clear that
basic reading ability can be acquired naturally at this early age.
Conclusion: the LAD is perfectly capable of producing the ability to read, as
well as the ability to speak.
Until this point in our evolutionary and cultural history, there has been
little effort made to teach infants to read, and the technological means to do
so have been poor. Things are different now, and we only hurt our children by
keeping them unable to read until their school years.
[If you would like a more technical treatment of the subject of early reading
as it appears in the current research literature, click here for a paper I
wrote for a class:
Research has shown that the LAD declines in ability with age.
It is common
knowledge that a second language is effortlessly acquired by very young
children, but that the older learner must struggle, and is likely never to lose
a "foreign" accent.
We place our children at an increasing disadvantage, the longer we delay
teaching them the second language that is the written form of our own.
Anyone who has studied a second language knows that reading it is the easiest
level of mastery.
Increasingly difficult are the abilities to:
understand the carefully spoken language,
produce carefully spoken and limited language,
understand the language as it is used casually between native speakers.
These levels of difficulty are familiar to anyone who has studied a second
language. Furthermore, the reasons for these different levels of difficulty are
obvious to anyone who gives it a moment's thought.
So I won't bore you by going through them.
But I will ask why the lesson is not applied to the written version of the
Reading is much easier than talking.
Reading at your own pace in a new language is easier than understanding fast
and fluent speech.
Reading rapidly in one's own first language is a much faster and easier way to
scan and take in information than listening to the spoken language.
to Steven Pinker
(speaking at a luncheon meeting of the Psychology Department
at the University of Auckland), it takes 1/5 of a second to recognise a spoken
word, but just 1/8 of a second to recognise a printed word. (I suppose I could
look up the original source of these numbers, but they certainly match my
subjective impressions, and likely yours as well: reading is quicker and
It should be obvious, even without the other evidence that I will point out,
infants can master simple reading at the same time that they are learning
to talk - during their first two to three years of life.
The later we teach children to read, the more difficult it is for them.
never becomes impossible, but it can become as difficult as learning any other
second language as an adult.
The Right Time Reader method lets you expose your baby to written communication
as well as spoken, at just the right time.
This exposure will give your baby several advantages.
During the first weeks and months of life, your baby's brain will be learning
how to make sense out of the patterns that the eyes send to the brain.
the period when your baby learns to see edges, lines and surfaces, and how they
relate to form objects. This learning is different from academic learning,
because it actually guides the initial 'wiring' of the brain's visual centers
in a way that cannot be done later in life.
Exposure to RTR may also protect your baby against certain problems.
It has long been known that, if a kitten is exposed only to objects with
during this critical period of development, it will learn how to see only
horizontally striped objects. The brain cells that would have developed to see
vertical stripes will atrophy, and the needed circuitry simply will not be
available later on. When such a kitten grows up, even if it sees a mouse with
vertical stripes, it will simply not see it well, because its brain has not
built the basic circuitry to see it. The cat will not respond like a normal
cat. While it figures out what it is seeing, the mouse will have time to escape.
A famous experiment by Hubel & Wiesel showed that an unfortunate kitten with
one eye sewn shut for the first three months of life will be permanently blind
in that eye. No direct physical damage has been done, but the neurons in the
visual centers have been denied essential stimulation during a critical
developmental period. Once this period is past, the chance is lost and that
perfectly good eye will never see. Its messages cannot be interpreted for
meaning and passed along to the brain.
A similar (but less drastic) problem is observed in infants whose amblyopia, or
"lazy eye syndrome" goes uncorrected. At the website of the
American Optometric Association
you will find several clear statements
that are relevant to RTR:
Your baby has a whole lifetime to see and learn. But, did you know your baby
also has to learn to see?"
Between birth and age three, when many of your baby's vision skills will
develop, there are ways that you can help.
The rest of their advice is also well worth reading - I recommend a visit to
I suspect that a similar phenomenon to that observed in cats is responsible for
certain kinds of
dyslexia in humans
, who may not have formed and properly connected all the
basic recognition circuitry for the patterns that make the written language.
Furthermore, I suspect that children who have good experiences with the Right
Time Reader method during this critical period of development are likely to
form very effective pattern-recognizing neural circuits in the visual cortex.
(Cohen, Dehaene et al. 2000)
These specially trained networks of neurons will quickly recognize letters and
groups of letters, and associate them with the sounds of the spoken language.
Although there may be a genetic or biological component to some instances of
dyslexia, it is not clear whether the observed family patterns are biological
or environmental.(Gallagher, Frith et al. 2000) At least one recognized
authority has reported research that indicates a behavioral, rather than a
neurological, basis for dyslexia in many cases.(Ehri 1989)
However, whether the problem is nature or nurture, it seems reasonable to hope
that Right Time Reader will deal with it.
If the root of the problem is
neurological, RTR will provide a strong extra stimulus to develop neural
structures to cope with the pattern-recognition tasks, whether these are the
exact neurons that might normally be assigned those tasks or not. If
behavioral, RTR will provide positive associations with reading that predate
any of the negative ones that might inspire inappropriate responses to print.
Thus it is my hope that few, or no, children who experience Right Time Reader
will later suffer from dyslexia.
Note to professionals:
I am quite aware that I have here only skimmed the surface of a discussion
that has gone on since Plato's time, and a debate that fills whole library
shelves. The entire RTR effort is my response to this debate. When is the right
time to learn to read? I think I know, having surveyed the literature and
considered the latest research, as well as having raised a couple of children
who are now well-adjusted and successful adults. Your opinion on early reading
may differ, but you well know that we could each spend a long time writing
arguments based on the existing research literature and never convince the
A key difference between RTR and all earlier thought and research is that RTR
relies on a natural mechanism that requires minimal cooperation and no
conscious effort from the learner. Earlier efforts to determine an optimum age
for reading have treated reading as an intellectual skill that must be
understood by conscious mechanisms, and learned by the application of
disciplined mental effort. RTR is different.
I expect to continue to add supporting evidence to these pages, but only
specific experience with RTR will tell, and this project is designed to gain
What I hope that everyone
agree with, is that there is essentially zero chance of RTR doing any harm,
unless early reading is regarded as harmful in itself.
If a parent undertakes the RTR program as recommended, with sensitivity and
without coercion, and the infant gains no reading skills, the parent will
nonetheless have spent many hours with infant in lap, paying attention to the
infant and interacting in many nonverbal ways. As far as I am aware, every
school of thought would agree that warm parent-child interactions are
beneficial. Furthermore, no upper limit of desirability has been shown for the
hours of such physical-contact-and-communication interaction. Many infants
suffer from too little such attention, but if any are hurt by too much, that
limit remains to be discovered. RTR can only do good.
I first learned this from Steven Pinker's book "The Language Instinct", but he
didn't reference his casual mention of the phenomenon, and it was quite awhile
before I tracked down the original work of
Dr Laura Ann Petitto
, where it sat
on my own bookself! Her work had been published in
magazine, to which I had a personal subscription (22 March 1991, v
pp1493-1496). But when that issue
arrived, I was still mainly interested in physical sciences. The article that
has a yellowed bookmark is titled "Breaking the Diffraction Barrier: Optical
Microscopy on a Nanometric Scale"!
But the more significant article was Dr Petitto's, which provided that week's
cover picture: a multiple exposure of a signing hand. Long after developing
RTR, I saw in that article that Dr Petitto had already said that "
Similarities in the time course, structure, and use of manual and vocal
babbling suggest that
there is a unitary language capacity that underlies human
signed and spoken language acquisition
. Like other systems identified in
evolutionary biology (32), the language capacity appears to be both constrained
and flexible. It is internally constrained with regard to the structures that
it can realize (phonetic and syllabic units), yet, in the face of environmental
it appears to be flexible with regard to the expressive modality it
can adopt to realize this capacity
(signed or spoken).
It is precisely this flexibility that RTR utilises, to include the print
modality of language in an infant's early learning, alongside the spoken.
Get back to the * where you were.
The current URL is http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~parsonst/discovery.html
This file was last modified 19-January-2003
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