Reading is your one-way ticket to adventure! You can ride fire-breathing dragons, explore outer space, or even save the world – all within the pages of a book. But have you ever wondered how we learn to read? And why it can sometimes feel hard to do?

Molly and co-host Anna talk to American Public Media reporter Emily Hanford, host of the podcast Sold a Story, about how some teaching techniques make it harder to learn how to read. Plus tips on how to become a rockstar reader and a brand-new Mystery Sound!

Related: Listen to our episode about dyslexia here.

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ANNA: You're listening to Brains On, where we're serious about being curious.

ANNOUNCER: Brains On on a supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.


LETTER K: So then I said, Kitty, that kangaroo kept that kebab all to herself. Not very kind, and it was quite a kerfuffle. Hasn't that kangaroo heard of karma?

LETTER N: Oh, letter K, don't look now, but letter C is headed this way, and you're both wearing the same outfit again.

LETTER K: OMG, this is so embarrassing, every single alphabet party.

LETTER N: Shh, here they come. Oh, hi letter C.

LETTER C: Hi, letter N. Hello, letter K.

LETTER K: Hello, letter C. Look, I wasn't going to say anything, but--

BOTH: You need to stop copying me.

LETTER N: OK, I'm just going to-- go.


LETTER C: I'm really going to need you to stop making the "kuh" sound. It's too confusing.

LETTER K: Excuse me, you want me, letter K, to stop? "Kuh" is all I do. Put me next to a "kuh" and I "kuh" E-O-U "kuh."

LETTER C: And what happens when you get put next to-- I don't know-- a letter E?

LETTER K: [SIGH] I make a "suh" sound.

LETTER C: Excuse me, I couldn't hear you.

LETTER K: I make a "suh" sound!

LETTER C: How about when you're next to the letter I?

LETTER K: Oh, fine, I-- [SIGHS] I make a "suh" sound. But don't go around pretending you're all "kuh" all the time.

LETTER C: I don't know what you're talking about.

LETTER K: Well, how about we talk about your good friend letter N who just scampered away? When you hang out with letter N, you lose yourself entirely. That's right, when the two of you get together, all I hear is K "nuh, nuh," you know-- K-N-O-W-- what I mean?

LETTER C: I know, I know. You're right, I need to stand up for myself. I can't just let letter N swallow me up. Look at me, here with my leg kicking out.

LETTER K: Hey, letter C, we're always stronger when we're together.

LETTER C: You know what K-I-C-K spells?

LETTER K: Kick! Let's kick it together! I hear there are some killer cookies kept on the snack-- C-K-- cart. Ooh, and cups of kettle corn.

MOLLY BLOOM: You're listening to Brains On from APM Studios. I'm Molly Bloom, and I'm here with my co-host Anna from Brooklyn, New York. Hi, Anna.

ANNA: Hey, Molly.

MOLLY BLOOM: And today we're answering all of our listener questions about reading. A bunch of you have written to us wondering about it, like Isabelle from Montreal.

ISABELLE: Why when you're little, you can't read?

COLIN: My name is Colin.

CATHERINE: And my name is Catherine, and we're from Charlottesville, Virginia.

COLIN: Our question is, why do we read?

ANNA: These are great questions, but before we can answer them, we have to jump back in time to when we were babies.

MOLLY BLOOM: Babies are born not knowing how to do much.

ANNA: They're so cute-- big eyes, squishy legs, adorable little gummy smiles.

MOLLY BLOOM: They're also pretty helpless. Beyond eating, pooping, and sleeping, they can't do a lot.

ANNA: But given some time, most babies will eventually figure out how to get around on their own and how to communicate with other people just by watching the adults around them, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

MOLLY BLOOM: When it comes to reading though, most kids will not figure that out on their own.

ANNA: And that's because reading is a relatively new skill for humans.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right, our brains did not evolve to do this naturally. Our early human ancestors didn't read, so there's not a part of the brain that's labeled "the reading part."

ANNA: Humans are really clever though. About 5,000 years ago, people in the Middle East came up with a system to write down the words and ideas that had been spoken for generations.

MOLLY BLOOM: But even after reading started, it still took a long time in history for reading and writing to catch on. It wasn't until pretty recently that reading became a normal, regular thing for most people to do, and they still have to work to learn it, which brings us to our first question. What does it take to become a good reader?

ANNA: Let's clarify. There are lots of different languages out there, but we're talking today about what it takes to become a good reader of the English language.

MOLLY BLOOM: There are two things you need to be able to do to be a good reader. First, you need to know what words mean.

ANNA: That's called language comprehension. Comprehension is another way of saying understanding.

MOLLY BLOOM: Understanding what words mean is not unique to reading. You need this to be a good listener and talker too.

ANNA: And good language comprehension is something kids can pick up by talking to other people, watching TV shows, having books read to them and listening to podcasts.

MOLLY BLOOM: The second part of being a good reader is being able to decode or figure out written words, and this is the tricky part. So let's break it down into steps.

ANNA: Step one, recognizing letters.

MOLLY BLOOM: Let's think about the alphabet for a second. Sometimes letters of the alphabet are made with straight lines, sometimes they're squiggly, and some of the letters look very similar to other letters. A lowercase B is the same as a lowercase D except backwards. Uppercase P and uppercase R are the same except R has a fancy, little leg sticking out. It takes time to tell the difference between all these different shapes.

ANNA: Step two, matching letters with sounds.

MOLLY BLOOM: So once you can tell the difference between a B and a D--

ANNA: An uppercase B looks like an uppercase D wearing a belt.

MOLLY BLOOM: Ooh, you are so right. So once you can tell them apart, you can understand that they make different sounds. B makes a--

ANNA: Buh, buh, buh sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: And D makes a--

ANNA: Duh, duh, duh sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: Then comes step three, sounding out words. That means you take what you've learned about the sounds letters make and put them together. So let's take the word B-A-T.

ANNA: You've learned the letter B makes a "buh" sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: A makes an "uh" sound.

ANNA: And T makes a "t" sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: So you look at B-A-T and you sound it out.

ANNA: Buh uh t. Buh uh t. Bat.

MOLLY BLOOM: And if you see the word C-A-T, you can do the same thing.

ANNA: Cuh uh t. Cuh uh t. Cat.

MOLLY BLOOM: Woo hoo! That's decoding. When you're learning to read this way, you'll start with simple words like these.

ANNA: Like dog or rag or fan.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right, simple three-letter words. Then you'll start to get longer words to decode, and here's where your previous knowledge of words comes in.

ANNA: Let's say you see the word W-A-T-E-R.

MOLLY BLOOM: You might sound it out like this wuh uh t eh er. Wuh uh t eh er. Wuh-ter.

ANNA: But your brain will say "wuh-ter" is not a word I know.

MOLLY BLOOM: So you'll look at that A and say, huh, OK, that A can make different sounds, not always "uh". Could it be--

ANNA: Water?

MOLLY BLOOM: Yes, water. And the further you get in your decoding journey, you'll start to learn some of the very confusing combos that English uses.

ANNA: The cool thing about a language like Spanish is that there's one way to make each sound, and each letter only makes one sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: But that's not how English works. For example, what makes the "fuh" sound--


MOLLY BLOOM: Right. But you can also make the "f" sound by using the letters P and H together.

ANNA: P plus H equals "fuh."

MOLLY BLOOM: Or in the word "laugh," which is spelled L-A-U-G-H, where is the sound coming from? It's from the letters G and H.

ANNA: G plus H equals fuh.

MOLLY BLOOM: Unless you're spelling the word "ghost," which is G-H-O-S-T. And in this case, G plus H equals--

ANNA: Guh, guh.

MOLLY BLOOM: Is right. Learning through read English is hard, but being taught how to decode words step by step paired with a good knowledge of lots of words has been proven by scientists to be the best way to learn to read.

ANNA: Yeah, there's been lots and lots of research done over the years.

MOLLY BLOOM: They've looked at learning at every level in different languages and have compared different teaching methods, and the research shows that being able to decode words is key. You can't be a good reader without being good at decoding words.

ANNA: Scientists have also looked at what happens in your brain when you learn to read.

MOLLY BLOOM: At first, your brain takes the slower route of breaking down each word into its parts. But the more you do this and the more comfortable you get, your brain starts to do it almost automatically.

ANNA: Yeah, after a while your brain recognizes the words so quickly, that you don't need to sound them out anymore.

MOLLY BLOOM: By the time you're a really good reader, you actually know tens of thousands of words instantly on sight. You don't have to figure them out. You just know them in a split second. It's pretty cool. So Anna, was learning to read easy or hard for you?

ANNA: So learning to read for me was kind of confusing because I learned to read, obviously, in the first grade and kindergarten, and I felt like I could read and that I was a strong reader. But as, like, I grew up, I realized that it was actually hard for me to sound out words. And that instant sight word that you were talking about, I didn't have a lot of those. And it would take me a long time to read because I would have to sound out each word, even words that I should know.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah. What grade were you in when you figured out, like, oh, wait, maybe reading is not a thing that is easy for me to do.

ANNA: Pretty early. My mom always used to make us read, like, 30 minutes a day. And that was always really hard for me, and I would always just be looking at the clock, wanting it to go away because it was just so frustrating for me. So I didn't know necessarily that something was wrong with my reading. I just thought I didn't like to read.

MOLLY BLOOM: Got it. So do you remember being taught how to read?

ANNA: I remember a lot of it being independent, our teachers assigning us different levels and then kind of giving us books, maybe working in small groups to read these books that were placed next to pictures. I would say that I more learned picture and word memory than actually sounding outwards. We would see a picture of a cat and then C-A-T, and be told that cat equals this picture. So then we would-- oh, they wanted our brains to automatically be able to recognize cat as C-A-T from picture and word recognition.

MOLLY BLOOM: So it was kind of like you were being taught to skip the sounding out part and kind of go right to the sight word part?

ANNA: Yes, exactly.

MOLLY BLOOM: Got it. And what grade are you in now?

ANNA: I'm in ninth grade, so a freshman in high school.

MOLLY BLOOM: And when did reading become easier for you?

ANNA: Reading never really became easier. I never saw it something that was hard necessarily. I just saw it kind of as something I didn't like. But as I-- this year especially-- I've realized that I actually just have trouble reading. It's not that I don't like it. It's that it's frustrating for me because I never really learned how to read and decode properly. So now this year, it's just reading in general, my relationship with it has became so much better.

MOLLY BLOOM: That is great. And you are very much not alone. It turns out that a lot of kids were not taught how to decode words, even though that's been proven to be the best way to learn read. We're going to hear more about that in a minute. But first, we have something else for your ears to break down, not a word, but a--

ROBOTIC VOICE: Mystery sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: Ready for the mystery sound, Anna?

ANNA: Yes.

MOLLY BLOOM: All right, here it is.


Hmm, do you want to hear it again?

ANNA: Yes.


MOLLY BLOOM: What are your thoughts?

ANNA: I think that's the sounds of pages being flipped.

MOLLY BLOOM: Hmm, very good guess. We'll hear it again after the credits, see if you feel the same way or you have a new guest, and we'll hear the answer, so stick around.


We're working on an episode about how creatures would evolve on other planets. So we want you to do a little dreaming with us. Imagine you find life on another planet. How would that life greet you? What would it sound like in their language to say hi? Would they even have a language or would they greet you another way? Anna, if you found a living creature on another planet, how do you imagine they would say hi?

ANNA: I imagine that they would say hi in a very different way that we say hi. I think that a lot of animals that I've seen say hi to each other more by going up to each other and touching each other. So I imagine this new creature saying hi to another creature by going up to it, maybe wagging their tail.

MOLLY BLOOM: I love that. Maybe a big hug. [CHUCKLES]

ANNA: Yes, maybe.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, listeners, we want to hear how you imagine an alien creature would say hi. Record yourself and send it to us at While you're there, you can also send us mystery sounds, drawings, and questions.

ANNA: Like this one.

SUBJECT 1: My question is, how do hurricanes form?

MOLLY BLOOM: You can find an answer to that question on our Moment of Um podcast. It's a daily dose of facts and curiosity you can find wherever you listen to Brains On. Again, that's

ANNA: And keep listening. You're listening to Brains On from APM Studios. I'm Anna.

MOLLY BLOOM: And I'm Molly. OK, so we just heard about the best ways to learn to read according to lots and lots of research.

ANNA: I love lots and lots of research. So helpful.

MOLLY BLOOM: I know. So you'd think teachers would be all about these findings, that they'd be teaching everyone to read starting by learning the letters then sounding things out and going from there.

ANNA: But that's not always what's happening. To find out more, we talked with someone who knows a lot about this.


EMILY: Hi. I'm Emily Hanford. I'm a reporter at American Public Media, and I cover education.

ANNA: Emily made a podcast called Sold a Story.

MOLLY BLOOM: It's about how lots of kids were having trouble learning to read. Emily found out that these kids were being taught in a way that just wasn't working. It all started when she was talking to different parents who kept telling her the same story.

EMILY HANFORD: And the story goes like this. My kid entered school and I knew something wasn't quite right. And I went to the teacher, and the teacher said, don't worry about it. It'll be fine. And a lot of cases things weren't fine.

MOLLY BLOOM: Sometimes the kids seemed like they could read at first, books with simple words and lots of pictures. But as the words in the book got more complicated and the pictures went away, the kid would struggle.

ANNA: Sometimes the kid had memorized words that they'd seen lots of times before, but they couldn't figure out new words.

MOLLY BLOOM: Emily says many of these kids felt sad or angry or frustrated.

EMILY HANFORD: And it was having an impact on their ability to learn in other subject areas like math and science and social studies. And in a lot of cases, they were starting to really not like school. They didn't want to go to school. They were being really resistant, and it was all becoming really, really hard.

ANNA: She wondered what was going on.

MOLLY BLOOM: She couldn't figure it out until she talked to one kid in particular, and something clicked.

EMILY HANFORD: I was asking her what she remembered about being taught to read. And she said to me, "the teacher would show me a picture of a cat and then point to the word and say, here's the word, cat" And then if this little girl didn't know a word in a book she was trying to read, the teacher told her to guess based on the picture. And I remember her telling me that and being struck by that description.

MOLLY BLOOM: Emily thought it was strange that this girl was being taught to memorize each word or to guess but not to sound out the words. We're going to call this approach the whole-word way of reading because instead of sounding words out letter by letter, you're trying to figure out the whole word.

ANNA: As opposed to the sounded-out or decoding method where you start by sounding out the letters.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right. And the more Emily looked into it, the more she saw that this whole-word way of teaching kids was everywhere. Classes all around the country were telling students to memorize a word and what it looks like. And if they didn't know a word, they should guess based on what would make sense.

EMILY HANFORD: The problem is you're not going to be right that much of the time. Just guessing at a few of the words on the page can really make the whole meaning of the story seem different.

ANNA: Like, say you're reading a story--

MOLLY BLOOM: And you see a sentence full of words you don't know, so you make some guesses based on the first letters you see.

ANNA: Maybe you think the sentence says, "it's dinner and a bunch of bears are invited. They're bringing plates and cups, and one of them shared the napkins."

MOLLY BLOOM: You'd think you're reading a story about some very polite grizzly bears.





SUBJECT 2: Oh, look, the bears are at the door!

SUBJECT 3: Oh, good. The table is ready. We'll be having duck confit, nicoise salad, and tarte aux framboise dessert.



Oh, look, they brought fine China and crystal glasses. And these napkins, these napkins are-- are they linen?


Absolutely exquisite.


But really, the sentence didn't actually say, "it's dinner, and a bunch of bears are invited. They're bringing plates and cups, and one of them shared the napkins."

ANNA: It actually said, "it's dinner, and a bunch of bears are invading. They're breaking plates and cups, and one of them shredded the napkins."




SUBJECT 2: Oh, no, bears are at the door!



SUBJECT 3: Goodness, they're eating the duck confit and the nicoise salad.

SUBJECT 2: Oh, no, not the tarte framboise. That was for dessert!

SUBJECT 3: No! Oh, and they're breaking the fine China and the crystals. And they've shredded the linen napkins. [CRYING] Oh, not the linen napkins. Anything but the linen napkins!



MOLLY BLOOM: If you were just guessing those words using the first few letters, it would be pretty easy to make this kind of mistake. After all, the words "invite" and "invade," "bringing" and "breaking," "shared" and "shred," they look kind of similar at first. Emily says once she realized this, it started making sense why so many kids were having a tough time.

ANNA: Students could guess words if they were reading a simple book.

MOLLY BLOOM: But as the books got more complicated and had fewer pictures, the kids who had been reading OK before suddenly couldn't figure things out.

ANNA: So why weren't teachers seeing this? Why were they still teaching this whole-word way, especially when lots and lots of research said the decoding way was better?

MOLLY BLOOM: To understand that, you have to realize that for a long, long time, we had no idea how a kid learned to read. There were lots of different ideas, but we did not have strong research telling us what worked.

ANNA: The whole-word way of teaching has been around for a long time, all the way back to when public schools started. And it got really popular.

MOLLY BLOOM: And it made sense to a lot of teachers. In fact, Emily thinks the reason so many teachers loved the whole-word approach was because it seemed like it helped kids skip the hard part of reading, the part where you have to slowly sound out each word.

EMILY HANFORD: They wanted kids to get to the good part. And the good part is being able to read a book and understand it and really enjoy it, really love it. And so I think with really good intentions, a lot of teachers wanted to help kids get to the good part.

ANNA: It seemed like it helped kids start reading whole words faster.

MOLLY BLOOM: So the whole-word approach was really popular in schools. And then scientists started doing more of those studies we mentioned earlier.

ANNA: And they found that sounding things out was actually a way better way to teach kids to read.

MOLLY BLOOM: But a lot of schools and educators were already super invested in the whole-word approach, and they didn't want to change what they thought was working. It wasn't until decades later, after lots and lots of research came out and books were written about this and reporters like Emily told this story that some schools started rethinking how they taught kids to read.

EMILY HANFORD: So I think things are changing. There are people in state legislatures across the country who are passing laws that are saying schools need to teach kids how to read based on all of the scientific research. They're giving money for teachers to get training, for schools to buy new books and materials. I think it's an exciting moment.

ANNA: But a lot of kids and grown-ups were taught the whole-word way of reading, and they might still have a hard time reading.

KAREEM WEAVER: So the first thing you have to understand is you're not dumb.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's Kareem Weaver. He knows a lot about kids and reading.

KAREEM WEAVER: I know it may feel like it because everything's moving so fast around you and you're trying and you've tried hard and it's like you just can't get it. That's not it. You need to find somebody, some adult that's willing to help.

MOLLY BLOOM: Kareem runs a nonprofit focused on helping kids learn how to read, and he used to teach fourth and fifth grade.

ANNA: He says even if reading isn't fun for you, that's OK. But it's still an important skill to have.

KAREEM WEAVER: What you do with it is up to you, and whether you like it or not is up to you. But you'll be a better worker or business owner or student or husband or wife or neighbor or whatever if you can read. And I want you to be able to read the job application. I want you to be able to read your paperwork. I want you to be able to read the instructions. When that sign says stop, I want you to know what it means.

MOLLY BLOOM: Basically, don't give up on becoming a good reader if you've had trouble. You might just need some different instruction.

ANNA: Kareem is also a parent, and he has some advice for parents who want to help.

MOLLY BLOOM: He recommends a book called 100 Easy Lessons, which you can find a link to in our show notes. And he says it's very important to test kids early for learning differences like dyslexia. That's when a person's brain can have special challenges learning to decode words. We have a whole episode about dyslexia if you want to learn more. Once Kareem's daughter got tested, she was able to get help, and now she's thriving.

ANNA: That sounds a lot like my story.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right, you mentioned earlier that you had some trouble with reading. And your mom, like Kareem, is a teacher, and she came along with you today. So we thought that maybe she would join us for this next section Hi, Susie.

ANNA: Hi, mom.

SUSIE: Hi, Anna. Molly, thanks so much for having me on the show today.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, thank you for being here. Susie, what grade do you teach?

SUSIE: I teach first grade.

MOLLY BLOOM: Susie and Anna, when did it finally click, like, what was happening with Anna, that it wasn't that she just didn't like reading, but she was, like, really struggling?

SUSIE: So after just kind of years, in all honesty. Last year, which was the year before ninth grade, she had a reading list. And she came to me, and I had noticed that she wasn't reading it. And I was frustrated because I thought she just didn't want to read it, and what was the problem? And then she told me that she actually was having a lot of trouble reading and it was really hard for her to read the words and read the books. And so then I really wanted to figure out a way to help her because I realized that it was a problem and that she needed help.

MOLLY BLOOM: So Anna, how was that when you went to your mom this past summer? How did that feel to you?

ANNA: When I went to my mom and we agreed that I needed some sort of help to really thrive reading, I felt super relieved. I felt relieved because I thought something was wrong with me and that I just didn't like reading and I just wasn't that smart. I really realized how I struggled reading in front of the class, and that was always something I never wanted to do. I was always so embarrassed. Sometimes kids would laugh when I would mispronounce words.

And I always have wanted to love reading like my role models, like my mom, my dad, and my brother do. They always would be talking about books at dinner, and my older brother would always brag about how many pages he read. And I would always be like, how is that possible to read that many pages in a short amount of time? And also, how is it possible to like reading. I really realized that I did not know how to decode words at all when I went over with my mom the sounds of each letter in the alphabet, and I literally just did not know them.

I didn't realize there was an important difference between "ih," the I sounds, and "eh," the E sounds. So what I found out that it was actually something wrong with how I sounded out words, I was so relieved and hopeful that I felt a chance to love reading, and made me understand why people love reading, it's because they have a different experience while reading than I did.

MOLLY BLOOM: So Susie, I'm wondering, how is being a mom similar to being a teacher? And how is it different? So like when you saw Anna struggling with reading, how does that compare with the kids in your classroom?

SUSIE: I think in both cases, just with my kids and my students, I definitely think of my kids also just in the classroom, I want them all to reach their full potential and to believe in themselves, and not think that it's something that's wrong with them if they're having trouble, but it's something that we can work together to become stronger.

ANNA: Did my struggles with reading change anything about how you teach reading to your students?


KAREEM WEAVER: So it absolutely did. It really made me focus even more on decoding strategies and making sure every one of my first graders will have the skills themselves to decode any word and every word that they come across.

MOLLY BLOOM: And Susie, were you taught the whole-word method of teaching reading?

SUSIE: So when I went to teaching school, when I went to grad school, I was much more taught the whole-word or whole-language way of teaching reading, where there wasn't as much emphasis on decoding or sounding the words out. And I've really flipped my teaching to really focus so much more on those decoding and the sounding out words.

MOLLY BLOOM: Are you seeing that flip happening with other schools and teachers?

SUSIE: I am. I mean, I talk to teachers all the time at different schools and about this. And Sold a Story, I think, really articulated what teachers are seeing, how different teachers have learned. And so it's really helped to me just even learn. I think, as a teacher, you're always learning more. And so for me it's been pretty amazing and great to really learn all this information, all this research, and then transition that and put it into my teaching.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's amazing. I think it's really good for kids to know too that your teachers are learning all the time and they're figuring out the best way to teach and they're-- you never stop learning, even when you're a grown up.

SUSIE: Exactly.

MOLLY BLOOM: And Anna, I would love to know what you want to say to kids listening to this. I'm sure that we have a lot of listeners who've had struggles with reading and it might make them feel bad, like you said you felt like maybe you just weren't smart, which is clearly not true. So what do you want to tell our listeners listening today?

ANNA: I want every listener to know that even though we hear from parents and teachers and friends that reading is this great, fun thing, that it can also be really frustrating, and that you're not alone or you're not being lazy or you're not bored or unsmart if you really just don't want to read. It's just because it's frustrating when you're first learning. And even if you're older, you're still learning. And it's not your fault. And it's a process.

The tutoring process that I'm in right now for reading and how it can be really frustrating and how it can seem tedious and it's just like improving is hard and it's not this easy switch that will occur. You really have to work and you have to engrave this in your brain. And I think it's really important. And I'm still learning how to do this but stay patient and really realize the end goal will be worth it.

SUSIE: And also, just the most important thing that Anna did, I think she asked for help. And I think that that's something that whether you're in first grade or whether you're a ninth grader or whether you're a grownup, if you're having trouble and you're not sure why and you don't know why these things aren't coming together, that it's so important just to ask for help. You can ask your grownup. You can ask a teacher. But I think that that's the way that we were able to help Anna, is because she spoke up and she could say I need help.

ANNA: I'm so glad that my mom was so helpful and supportive and she really reassured me that it wasn't my fault. And I'm so thankful that my mom was so helpful and supportive in the process.

SUSIE: And I'm just so proud of Anna for coming and saying that she needed help but then also being willing to put in the work that she needs to put in to go through all this, to really connect those sounds with the letters. And she has really been committed. And so I'm very proud of her for doing that and I'm just I'm so excited and happy for her that we're figuring this out.


MOLLY BLOOM: Human brains are usually pretty good at learning to move and communicate without much help.

ANNA: But reading is different because it's such a new skill for our species. Research says the best way to learn to read is to start by learning the letters--

ANNA: And the sounds that go with them.

MOLLY BLOOM: --and then sound out words letter by letter until you get so good, your brain can recognize words super fast.

ANNA: Not everyone was taught to read this way though.

MOLLY BLOOM: If you want to get better at reading, there are lots of ways to do it. Just ask for help. That's it for this episode of Brains On.

ANNA: This episode was produced by Molly Bloom, Rosie Dupont, Anna Goldfield, Aron Woldeslassie, Anna Weggel, Nico Gonzalez Wisler, Molly Quinlan, Ruby Guthrie, and Marc Sanchez.

MOLLY BLOOM: Many super duper special thanks to Emily Hanford for her reporting and helping us with this episode. We highly recommend listening to her whole series Sold a Story. You can find it wherever you listen to Brains On or at Our editors are Sanden Totten and Shahla Farzan. This episode was sound designed by Rachel breeze, and we had engineering help from Gary O'Keefe and Derek Ramirez. Beth Perlman is our executive producer. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Alex Shaffer, and Joanne Griffith. Special thanks to Susie Brandmeier.

ANNA: Brains On is a nonprofit public radio program.

MOLLY BLOOM: There are lots of ways to support the show. Head to

ANNA: While you're there, you can send in questions.

MOLLY BLOOM: And fan art. We love getting fan art from you.

ANNA: You can also subscribe to our smarty pass.

MOLLY BLOOM: When you do, you'll get ad-free episodes and super special bonus stuff. OK, Anna, are you ready to hear the mystery sound again?

ANNA: Yes, I'm really excited to see what it is.



Any new thoughts?

ANNA: I don't know. I'm still sticking with my page-flip theory.

MOLLY BLOOM: Very good theory. I have no idea what it is either, and that's what I thought too. So let's see if our brains got it. Here is the answer.

SAM: Hi. I'm Sam.

MARIAM: And I'm Mariam.

SAM: And that was the sound of us flipping the pages of a book.


ANNA: Yay!

MOLLY BLOOM: Anna, so good.


MOLLY BLOOM: Excellent ears. Nice work.


Now it's time for the brains honor roll. These are the kids who keep the show going with their questions, ideas, mystery sounds, drawings, and high-fives.



We'll be back next week with more answers to your questions.

ANNA: Thanks for listening.

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