What cognitive skills and other factors (types of exposure, practice, knowledge of the language, etc.) affect one's ability to read aloud fluently in a foreign alphabet — or even in one's native language/alphabet? Are there any studies which show how these factors compare to each other in terms of their ability to influence reading speed and proficiency?

Related: What skills does reading aloud improve?

Background/motive for the question (Feel free to skip reading this!):

Example #1 from my own history:

I developed superior reading-aloud skills in my native language (English) very early in childhood; however, now, at age 27, I am no longer able to read aloud in English with anywhere close to the same fluency. I now have trouble reading long sentences with the correct cadence, which I never had as a child. I experienced certain cognitive insults in early adulthood which may go some way toward explaining this change, and I would like to learn how to remediate them if possible.

Example #2 from my own history:

I began a third language, Russian, in young adulthood. It was my first time learning a foreign alphabet. I began the process long before the cognitive insults occurred. All the same—and despite my success with English—I was extremely slow in learning to read Russian (Cyrillic) text out loud fluently. I was one of the slowest readers (and learners of this skill) in my class, despite normal to superior performance in other, measurable aspects of cognition, i.e., a perfect SAT score.

I had no problem reading a transliteration out loud, but when it came to text in the foreign alphabet, even years of studying Russian did not help me get faster. I only finally learned to read aloud fluently in Russian when my Russian itself was fluent; by then, I knew the words and their contexts well enough that I didn't have to process letters individually anymore, and could basically read by guessing.

Example #3 from my own history:

The next alphabet I learned to read aloud was Hebrew. Despite several years of daily practice, to this day, I am painfully slow at reading Hebrew aloud. I attribute this to the fact that I do not have even an elementary knowledge of the Hebrew language, and thus cannot recognize patterns nor predict words.

BUT, I am studying another language--Yiddish--with the same alphabet, and I am almost as slow at reading that, despite the fact that I have a solid basic proficiency in Yiddish, unlike Hebrew. My Yiddish reading is slightly faster than my Hebrew, but not by much, even though the difference between my Yiddish knowledge and my Hebrew knowledge is significant.

....From what cognitive shortcoming am I suffering?

  • In my opinion, I would only learn a language in/with its actual script. This avoids language co-mingling in your mind, which I think works against you. If the scripts are basically the same, language learning is usually easier.
    – user3169
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:42
  • 1
    Yiddish reading is more similar to English than Hebrew, since the vowels are in the words, not diacritics. You need to work on sight words and repeated readings in both language. Yes, that means flashcards.
    – LN6595
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:59
  • @user3169 I have always done so (except at the very earliest stages of learning, in which the foreign alphabet can be an obstacle to any headway at all).
    – SAH
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 20:07
  • @LN6595 Good idea about "sight words." Flashcards are too slow, though--my reading speed for one word is thank G-d already faster than the time it takes to move a flashcard. Will try to experiment with using sample texts made up of sightwords
    – SAH
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 20:08
  • 1
    Can you check this question and clarify whether cognitive disorder is the right term here? (And not, for example specific learning difficulty?)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 21:44

1 Answer 1


You might be using a method that doesn't focus much on reading. Also, you might be losing your skill of reading fluency due to lack of practice throughout the years.

I developed superior reading-aloud skills in my native language (English) very early in childhood; however, now, at age 27, I am no longer able to read aloud in English with anywhere close to the same fluency. I now have trouble reading long sentences with the correct cadence, which I never had as a child.

For the first part, you might not be speaking English as much as before thus your deterioration of your speaking ability over a long period of time. I assume you went to a school where English where was your primary language. Why is this important? Because you practically speak English for at least 8 to 9 hours a day, excluding time at home to study. If you were taught English in school but not as your primary language, the same applies though you probably spent less time speaking in English.

As you grow older, your voice starts to change (blame puberty and all). As I grew older, my voice became deeper... a whole lot more deeper. Friends of mine remarked on how much deeper my voice got after one summer (yes, I have school) and that was blamed on puberty since that's what happens. You could go to the extreme and assume you have throat cancer or something very serious.

Oh? The article that mentioned that last sentence in that above paragraph also mentioned that voice changes can be caused by poor speaking technique. This could mean that you are definitely losing your speaking ability.

Your other examples might suggest you're using the wrong method or simply lack a method. With your second example, it seems you are using the Grammar-Translation method:

This approach actually uses mainly the learner's native language rather than the target language... and translations between the languages are the common exercises.

You can translate English to Russian very well though you can't translate Russian back to English well. That's probably because you are foucsing more on English to Russian which seems to match the first part of above quote.

With you struggling to read any of your languages fluently, it could come down simply to the fact that speaking is not your strong point. My weak point in language is grammar. I continuously struggle with grammar but like anyone, I study and focus more on grammar. Thus, I don't think you have some mental disease or anything: all you need is more practice.

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