The Illusion of Reading

To read without understanding is only an illusion of reading.

A girl told me a few days ago: “It’s strange, when I read in my classes or I listen to my teachers, I feel I understand everything, and when I go home, it does not matter. there is nothing, I have forgotten everything.”

That’s exactly one of the facets of dyslexia.

Read without reading

Before I encountered the Davis method, I could sometimes go through certain texts such as insurance contracts, notarial deeds or laws. I would come to the end of the text with the impression of understanding. But then I would be totally unable to articulate any idea.

With my Davis training, I understood the reason and the mechanics of this phenomenon. This is precisely one of the consequences of dyslexia as described by Ron Davis.

There is a sort of vague impression of understanding. The feeling that text means something. But in reality, everything is too vague to do anything with it.

Does this happen to you as well? I bet it’s sometimes the case.

Children and learning to read

In the same way and at their own level, some children who learn to read are very good at pronouncing written words and seem very comfortable with reading.

The child takes a book, sits and reads aloud to anyone who wants to hear it. That’s fine, but watch out …

Because here comes a question that I love: “Did you understand?” The children learn very quickly that it is necessary to answer “yes” to this question. It is automatic, not necessarily reflective.

This scene can present a great danger that is not easy to anticipate if we are not fully attentive and aware of the mechanisms of reading: we congratulate the child for his success when he did not understand the text.

The trap of sounding out

What a person does by reading aloud is pronouncing; that is, turning written words into sounds that are perceptible to the ear. But this does not necessarily imply understanding of what the text means.

A computer is able to verbalize, to sound out a text. But it does not have any understanding. You only have to listen to the program’s synthesizers of automatic voices to be convinced of that. They make many mistakes.

But the child learns what is right or wrong by observing the reaction of the adults around him. If they are happy, the child will think that he has learned to read and that to be loved, all that matters is to say the words correctly.

He has no idea of ​​the importance of meaning.

Several years later

The child rewarded for his or her oral prowess can eventually fall into the trap of the illusion of reading when he reads “well” but does not understand the texts, the stories, the instructions.

What worked well before and for which he was rewarded no longer works. Why? Because he’s dumb or stupid? This is unfortunately what he is at risk of deducing.

And here problems begin, poor self-esteem, even school phobia in some cases.

So what to do?

From reading the above, we must first be aware of the illusion of reading, and learn to reward/congratulate the child for what is really “to read”, meaning to make sense from of text.

I advise you to ban the famous question “did you understand?” to replace it with “what did you understand?” or “explain to me …” or “tell me …”.

Then, be wary of words that seem obvious to you but are not so clear for the child. One of my students confused the French word “flanc” (meaning the side of a hill) with “flan” (meaning a custard dessert). Difficult to understand in these conditions!

Fortunately, Davis facilitators understand these traps and how to avoid them in order to give children the tools needed to really master reading.

This article has been translated from French by Abigail Marshall, with the help of Google translate. For the original French version of the main article, see

The drawings on this page are original artwork from the website — they are used with permission from the site owner.