To understand decoding, it helps to think about written language as essentially a code or series of symbols for oral language. To read, a child needs to be able to decode written language, which means being able to recognize and sound out each letter of the alphabet. A child also needs to recognize and be able to pronounce letter blends – letters commonly found grouped together. Frequently found letter blends include “th”, “ch”, “st”, and “qu”; more complicated blends include “ough” and “ought.” Your child might be having difficulty with decoding if she regularly struggles with recognizing letter sounds and blend sounds. The result is that she wouldn’t be able to easily sound out many words in a text at her grade level. A child with strong decoding skills can recognize familiar words quickly, and easily figure out new words.

An early reader with good decoding skills can:

  • Recognize and distinguish between words with long and short vowel sounds (for example, “cut” and “cute”); the “e” at the end creates the long vowel sound.
  • Read “vowel teams” (two vowels together in a word, for example, “bait,” and “eat”), and recognize that when two vowels are together in a word, the second vowel is silent
  • Read two-syllable words
  • By the end of third grade, read multi-syllabic words
  • Recognize grade level sight words
  • Begin to recognize words with common prefixes (such as “non-” and “mis-“) and suffixes (such as “-ful” and “-ly”) that are added to a root word
  • Understand how to break unfamiliar words into smaller parts to facilitate reading, (for example, the word “interesting” can be broken down to “In-ter-est-ing”)

Other necessary reading skills:


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Updated: July 29, 2021