All humans are visual learners. Recent research conducted by linguists and cognitive scientists suggests that the primary function of language is not for communication, but for processing one’s thoughts. Despite the insistence by most evolutionary biologists that language was a happy accident developed in early humans from the need to hunt in large groups, recent evidence shows that communication is a secondary function of language, and that it actually developed out of a necessity to label and understand things that we were seeing. This has all sorts of implications on social interaction and mental development, but it could also mean that we have been teaching language (and more specifically, reading and writing) in superfluous, complicated ways. This doesn’t mean that we were all taught to read and write the wrong way, but it could help explain why certain individuals have trouble grasping the ability to read and write effectively.
The reason this sounds so foreign is because our society teaches us language as communication, and because of this, ignores the natural thought processes that gave rise to the need of a written language long ago. We are just beginning to understand the complications this can bring about in individuals learning to read for the first time, but some researchers suggest that the problems and deficiencies are more ubiquitous than originally assumed. However, new internal and visual teaching methods are being developed in an effort to combat these issues, and to begin teaching people of all ages how to read and write effectively in a way that naturally suits the human mind.
One of these methods consists of learning to read with visual hints, or “cues”, which has been shown to promote the literacy process by connecting the logic and visual centers of the brain and forcing them to work together, which helps to increase cognitive understanding and function. Research has shown that when learning new words, simply displaying a visual representation of a word, combined with its primary phoneme (usually the central vowel combination), increases the rate of retention and understanding of the word in individual students. This method of instruction has also been shown to contribute to better pronunciation and spelling, and can even lead to a larger vocabulary overall.
The reason this works is because, as humans, we are naturally visual creatures. When we learn to read and write for the first time, our brains have no natural understanding of each English letter, or the sound(s) it can represent. Therefore, it takes us longer to understand the phonemes associated with each letter, and even longer to remember them for future use. We are essentially asking our brains to learn words in a complicated and inefficient way. This is why learning language with visual representations coupled side-by-side with phonemes produces a deeper understanding of the words, what they mean, and how they are spelled. It allows the words to be fully understood for what they are, rather than what our brains can remember them to be.
When we were all taught the word “tree,” we can assume that we were taught the individual letters “t,” “r,” and “e,” then the sounds each letter made, and then the sound combinations (phonemes) of the consecutive letters “t and r,” and “e and e.” This makes perfect sense if your goal is to teach someone how to say/communicate the word “tree.” And indeed, most people who cannot read or write can still point to a tree when asked, as well as pronounce the word correctly. However, the human mind did not evolve by looking at individual English letters and producing a word for an object that would one day be labeled a “tree.” It evolved by looking at physical objects (visual representations) in the world, thinking about them first, and then applying words to them.
Its possible that we have been forcing our brains to operate “out of order” for most of our lives. However, since most people learn to read and write at a young age, our brains adapt to this method of learning, and we eventually call it “normal.” Thanks to the interdisciplinary efforts of cognitive scientists and education professionals, we now understand more about how the brain develops and functions, and which methods promote learning in logical ways. It seems that the only “normal” way of learning to read and write must consist, in some way, of visual representations coupled with the primary phonemes present in the word being taught, allowing the mind to make a natural connection between the letters themselves and the objects they denote.