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Buy a Book for the Holidays

Reading is a skill we are not born knowing how to do, yet it is arguably the most critical skill we can learn. Indeed, the most recent statistics from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey found that across 7 countries (including the US and Canada), adults with low reading ability were 2-3 times more likely to be unemployed for more than six months, and were 20% more likely to stay unemployed than their more literate peers.1 In addition, those with low literacy were more likely to earn less, receive welfare payments, and report low levels of physical and emotional health compared with age-matched peers who read better.2,3,4

Against this backdrop, recent findings from a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) are alarming: only 48.5% of adults read one or more books for pleasure in the year prior to July 2022, which is down 4.2% from the prior survey conducted in 2017.5 Moreover, this result appears to reflect a growing trend. When considering only novels or short stories, the reading rate was at only 37.6%, a drop of 7.6% since 2012 and the lowest ever since the surveys began in 1992.

Why we need to keep reading books

With so much video content these days, it’s easy to forget about reading books. But books are the number one way to increase language and literacy skills for adults and children alike. This is because written text is much different from spoken text—books provide exposure to new, and often more sophisticated vocabulary, and contain infrequent word orders and grammatical structures that communicate detailed relationships between characters and objects in the text.6,7,8, Books—or other types of written texts—are where you are more likely to find sentences like these:

“I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair.”

(Ch 2, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan-Doyle)

“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

(Ch 35, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling)

“Charlotte was naturally patient. She knew from experience that if she waited long enough, a fly would come to her web; and she felt sure that if she thought long enough about Wilbur’s problem, an idea would come to her mind.”

(Ch 10, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White)

Repeatedly exposing our brains to this type of language trains both our language and reading skills, and the more exposure a person gets, the better their skills become.9, This means that just reading books increases our chances of success in the workplace because we become more flexible at comprehending and producing different types of language.

In addition, the concentration that reading requires trains our brains to be better prepared for real-world workplace challenges. Finally, if you are a parent, being a reader yourself creates an environment that encourages better language and literacy skills in your children; children with more books in their homes have been found to end up being better readers.10,11

E-books help too—and Cascade Reading can make digital reading even better!

The main benefit of book reading is gaining access to the special language of print. This means that with respect to boosting language and literacy skills, E-books and online reading can offer the same advantage!12 So, if you prefer reading on a tablet or phone, add those e-pub and website subscriptions to your holiday shopping list—both for yourself and the younger readers in your home! The main thing is—don’t give up on reading!

At Cascade Reading, our main goal is to make reading easier and more enjoyable. The Cascade Reading browser plug-in (available now for Chrome and soon for IOS) offers a way to enhance comprehension by providing visual cues to support our brains as they process the more complicated language of print. For example, compare the readability of the Sherlock Holmes sentence above to the same sentence presented in Cascade Format:

A cascade of the sentence: “I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair.”

Install the browser extension yourself and Cascade this webpage to see the other two sentences in Cascade Format. Notice how Cascade makes complicated language easier to read.

The browser extension enables any web page to be Cascaded, which amplifies the benefit of reading printed language online.  Cascade Reading invites you to try it today—for free—and know that you are exercising the linguistic muscles in your brain in a way that will improve your reading and language skills long after you’ve finished your first book of 2024!

Remember—Reading changes lives; and Cascade changes reading.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season from the entire Cascade Reading team!

Keep reading,

Dr. Julie Van Dyke, Chief Scientist, Cascade Reading

References

1Statistics Canada & Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2005) “Learning a Living: First results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey.” Office of the Secretary-General, OECD, Paris.

2Danziger, S., Corcoran, M., Danziger, S. Heflin, C., Kalil, A., Levine, J., Rosen, D., Seefeldt, K., Siefert, K. and Tolman, R. (1999), “Barriers to the Employment of Welfare Recipients,” Discussion Paper no. 1193-99, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Michigan.

3Heinrich, C.J. (1998), “Aiding Welfare-to-Work Transitions: Lessons from JTPA on the Cost-Effectiveness of Education and Training Services”, Working Paper 98-12, Joint Center for Poverty Research, Northwestern University/University of Chicago.

4Rudd, R., Kirsch, I. and Yamamoto, K. (2004), Literacy and Health in America. A Policy Information Center Report, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ.

5National Endowment for the Arts (2023). “Arts participation patterns in 2022: Highlights from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA).

6Biber, D. (2006). University language: A corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins.

7Roland, D., Dick, F., & Elman, J. L. (2007). Frequency of basic English grammatical structures: A corpus analysis. Journal of memory and language, 57(3), 348-379.

8Montag, J. L. (2019). Differences in sentence complexity in the text of children’s picture books and child-directed speech. First Language, 39(5), 527-546.

9Huettig, F., & Pickering, M. J. (2019). Literacy advantages beyond reading: Prediction of spoken language. Trends in cognitive sciences, 23(6), 464-475.

10van Bergen, E., van Zuijen, T., Bishop, D., & de Jong, P. F. (2017). Why are home literacy environment and children’s reading skills associated? What parental skills reveal. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(2), 147-160.

11Hume, L. E., Lonigan, C. J., & McQueen, J. D. (2015). Children’s literacy interest and its relation to parents’ literacy‐promoting practices. Journal of Research in Reading, 38(2), 172-193.

12Schwabe, A., Lind, F., Kosch, L., & Boomgaarden, H. G. (2022). No negative effects of reading on screen on comprehension of narrative texts compared to print: A meta-analysis. Media Psychology, 25(6), 779-796.

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