Learning to Read: Factors and Influences

Learning to Read: Factors and Influences

Last update: 11 August, 2018

Learning to read is a slow and progressive process. It requires that many cognitive and extralinguistic abilities be put into practice. Nevertheless, there are many factors that have a direct or indirect influence on the acquisition of the ability. This is especially true with children. If we consider their situation, learning to read should not only be adaptive but also interactive and fun.

These factors can be divided into emotional, physical, and intellectual categories. Even so, we frequently tend to consider the last two to be fundamental. But the truth is that psychological and environmental factors can also lead to success or failure when learning to read. Let’s take a close look at each of them.

Emotional factors

One of the essential ingredients for learning to read is the attitude parents and teachers have when educating. On many occasions, some adult behavior can make this process more difficult for children. However, this doesn’t happen in all cases.

Mother and daughter reading together.

An example of this is overprotection. Some children feel excessively protected and babied. For these children, when it comes time to confront new challenges, they will probably feel unsure of themselves. They will tend to reject the challenge. Similarly, excessive permissiveness decreases self-discipline, self-responsibility, and the acquisition of good habits. The lack of rules can make a child feel unmotivated. He will feel this when he attempts activities requiring some effort.

In the same way, excessive pressure from family members or teachers negatively influences the child. Comments such as “You should have learned this ages ago” can undermine their morale or discourage them. The same goes for comments such as “You’re way behind your classmates”. They can even make the child give up.

The worst thing is when that disappointment and lack of motivation for learning to read is generalized to everything school-related. It’s there where the feared academic failure is produced. It’s followed by a feeling of inevitable inferiority in the child. The child might also have more adaptation and integration problems in his peer group.

Physical factors

Vision and hearing are essential physiological functions when it comes to the reading skill. In fact, there are authors who consider the ability to hear even more important than vision in levels beyond reading.

The lack of visual acuity or equilibrium in ocular muscles can reduce reading ability. In the same way, deafness can also limit the process. Nevertheless, if these issues are detected before the age of 3, there are more chances that linguistic and reading development will not be hindered as much.

Intellectual factors

There are many studies that back precocious maturity of girls compared to boys. This speed of intellectual development is due to the relative dominance of their left hemisphere. So, reading done “by” this brain hemisphere tends to be done better. It’s done with fewer errors and higher comprehension.

That’s why a first requirement for the child to be able to learn to read correctly is hemispheric lateralization. Or, at least, a preference for the use of one or the other sides of the body. This will avoid interference caused by the lack of differentiation between cerebral hemispheres. When there’s a lack of lateralization, a series of disorders might appear. These can influence reading ability. Some of these are difficulty spelling or writing.

A little girl reading.

Understanding and reading

Even though these might seem to be the same, they aren’t. How many times have we sat down to read a book when it happens? Five minutes after starting, we realize we don’t know anything about what we read. Paying attention is fundamental to understanding what we’re reading. If you don’t concentrate, you’re just looking at a bunch of letters without cognitively processing them.

Understanding requires a series of extralinguistic processes. These go beyond the lexical and semantic characteristics of the words. Among them are interpreting, contextualizing, problem-solving, and reasoning. Understanding goes beyond the senses (visual or auditory). It means actively constructing the contents of the text. This is the top of the reading pyramid. It means decoding a message.

Family influence on reading

The more stimulating the child’s environment is, the more beneficial a contribution we’ll be able to give them. Because of that, the weight that the parents have in the child’s process of learning to read is crucial. Also, the parents’ reading habits also influence the acquisition of reading skills.

A happy family reading.

There are significant differences between children whose parents read often and those who have no reading role model. For example, reading parents tend to be more willing to read a book to their children before they fall asleep. They might also have stimuli in the house that invites children to read, such as magazines, newspapers, and books.

On the other hand, one of the symptoms that appear frequently in children who fail at reading is too much shyness. Or it could also be the tendency to blush easily. It’s normal for them to develop feelings of inferiority that make them seem somewhat egocentric. This comes from an anxious internal state. They often have nervous habits like nail-biting or insomnia. Because of that, it’s important to be extremely attentive to these situations. This will allow you to avoid that sense of failure or general discontent. Remember that the importance of reading in the family influences the child’s reading learning process.


Trianes, M. V. y Gallardo, J. A. (2004). Education and development psychology in school contexts. Madrid: Pirámide

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.