The Brain’s Steps to Reading

The following blog is an honorable mention in the Brainy Blog Competition.

For the past 6 months most of us have been stuck indoors. Many of us have used this time to pick up new hobbies, or continue hobbies that got swept to the side due to a busy work or school schedule. Well, I fell into the latter category. 

Over the past 6 months, I’ve read over seventy books! This might seem like an overkill, but I absolutely love to read. 

There are many reasons why I read so much. One reason is that I enjoy conceptualizing ideas and thoughts through the eyes of different people from the words they write. Another reason is because I know that reading utilizes multiple parts of the brain and requires a degree of focus and memory to be done fluently, with full comprehension of what is being read. It is a great way to exercise the brain, similar to the way you exercise your muscles at the gym, keeping our brains active and alert.

An article published by  Harvard University called “Reading and the Brain,” by Scott Edwards breaks down the process of learning to read that starts from the time that we’re born. Edwards described how babies start processing sounds and developing phonological skills, the ability to discern the sounds of a language, as they grow into toddlers. He described how the act of reading requires the brain to recognize words, recall the meaning of those words, understand the context of those words in a sentence, put the ideas formed by those sentences in a paragraph, and comprehend the information given by those paragraphs into a story or narrative. These many many steps in the reading process are why reading takes several years of practice to be done fluently and is a definitive way to work your brain. 

Many of these steps require different parts of the brain. Scientific American published an article called “The Reading Brain,” outlining the functions of different parts of the brain in regards to reading and language. Tanja Kassuba and Sabine Kastner, the authors of this article, described the occipital, temporal, and parietal lobe in the brain’s left hemisphere as parts of the brain that contain a person’s wordbox. The wordbox was defined in this article as the part of the brain that connects the brain’s visual system and language regions. This section of the brain takes the shapes and lines that form words from our brain’s visual system and delivers them to the brain’s language regions, where those shapes become words with a given meaning that can be interpreted.

As we read, our brains connect our memories and experiences to the ideas set in each sentence, using them as a foundation to put together a scene in our heads. It’s amazing how every language we learn requires so many parts of the brain to function. This is a great example of how many different parts of the brain work in tandem. So whenever we read, our brain comes alive with the various signals that are working together to interpret the lines and shapes we see and give them a meaning, a life, and a story.

Author: Rebecca-Renee Lorente

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