Measuring Reading Fluency

Updated on May 16, 2020
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand.



What is Reading Fluency?

Many beginning-level English language learners, as well as other foreign language learners, struggle and can't read fluently. In most cases, these learners cannot sound out and distinguish between words. They also don't know the meaning of words and how they are used in sentences. Should this be a surprise? No, not really, if we truly understand what must take place for reading fluency to exist. This hub examines the phonological, orthographic, semantic, and contextual levels of linguistic awareness and how they relate to reading fluency.

Levels of Linguistic Awareness

There must be four levels of linguistic awareness for reading fluency to exist: phonological, orthographic, semantic, and contextual. If a learner hasn't acquired all of these levels, there won't be any reading fluency. Let's look closely now at each of these four levels of linguistic awareness.

1. Phonological

Phonological awareness means you recognize the sounds of a language and can distinguish among them. A lot of people think that learning the alphabet of a language is the first step in gaining linguistic awareness for reading. This may be true for languages such as Thai in which the letters of the alphabet are pronounced exactly as they are written. It is not true for English, because many letters, especially the vowels a, e, i, o, and u can take on various sounds.

For this reason, it is first necessary to learn how to pronounce the phonemes or basic sounds of a language. Then, a learner blends the consonant and vowel sounds to form words. For example, after learning the consonant aspirated sounds of b and p and the long vowel sound e, students can combine them to form the sounds bee and pee.

2. Orthographic

Orthographic awareness means you can recognize letters of an alphabet like English or characters of a language such as Chinese. It also means you can recognize the correct order in which letters or characters are placed to make words. For example, with this awareness, you know that cats is a word in the sentence "The cats aren't big," and that there are spaces between the words. With orthographic awareness for Thai, you would recognize that ฉัน is a word in the sentence ฉันรักธอ "I love you." For the Chinese sentence 明天我要去北京 "I want to go to Beijing tomorrow.", with an orthographic awareness, one would know that 明天 means tomorrow. In addition to this, orthographic awareness includes familiarity with rules for spelling, hyphenation, abbreviations, capitalization, and punctuation.

When combined, phonological and orthographic awareness create word recognition and pronunciation. Young English learners with this awareness should be able to read Dr. Seuss's rhyme books. It is a known fact that before you can read and remember a word, you have to be able to pronounce it

3. Semantic

If one has semantic awareness, you can distinguish between real words and imaginary words or between English and foreign words. For example, you know that phander is a made-up word, and father is a real one. Having semantic awareness also means that for each word you know, a mental image inside your brain matches that word as well as other words associated with it. For instance, the word tree associates with forest, leaves, trunk, etc.

4. Contextual

Finally, contextual awareness is like a puzzle clue. It indicates the correct placement of words in a sentence and shows an understanding of basic grammar rules. It is also needed to differentiate between homophones and homographs. For instance, in the sentence, "She runs slowly to the park," contextual awareness tells us that slowly is an adverb and park is a noun.

Linguistic Awareness for Reading Fluency

Which is the most difficult level of linguistic awareness to acquire for reading fluency?

See results

How Is Your Reading Fluency?

The following short simple test is designed to measure your ability to process words on the four levels of linguistic awareness. It will also define your strengths and weaknesses as a reader. Don't worry because no one will pass or fail this test which is only a tool. Its purpose will be explained after you take the test.

Read the following sentences and answer the questions.

1. Once when I was a komlet, my fander and I were sundering in line to buy chatmots for the jammit.

2. In front of ooze, woat was another famlet with shix rindles who were kambering their potents sorants.

3. They were delletly dennering about the bracks, illectics, and other hotts that they would vint that moster.

1. Who is the speaker with and what are they doing?

2. Who were the shix rindles with and what were they doing?

3. What were they delletly dennering about?

4. What would they vint that moster?

5. What is the difference between passed and past?

6. What is the difference between hair and hare?

7. What is the difference between a bass and a bass?

8. What is the difference between "touch down" and "a touchdown?"

What does this test signify? Well, if you can't read the short three-sentence paragraph, it means you lack a good foundation in English grammar and sentence structure. The paragraph follows rules of English grammar and sentence structure even though it is filled with made-up words. Native speakers should be able to easily answer all of the questions. Failure to pronounce the words may indicate a lack of phonological awareness. Although there are many imaginary words, almost all of them contain English morphemes, the smallest basic units of speech conveying the sounds and letters that appear in the language. If you could not answer questions 5-8, you may lack semantic, phonological, or contextual awareness.

Tests similar to the one above could be written for other languages to measure phonological, orthographic, semantic, and contextual linguistic awareness. All of this awareness must be present for learners to develop reading fluency. Specific ways to develop reading fluency will be addressed in a future article.

Phrasing in Fluent Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn


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      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Au fait,

        I feel really honored when you say this is one of your favorite hubs. Thank you so much for sharing it again.

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        6 years ago from North Texas

        This is one of my favorite hubs that you have written. I think it is so full of important information. I have already voted it up, etc., and pinned it, but I will share it again in case someone out there hasn't read it. Everyone needs to read this hub.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I'm very happy you liked it and really appreciate your great comments.

      • missolive profile image

        Marisa Hammond Olivares 

        6 years ago from Texas

        Hi Paul, this was a fun read for me. I've always enjoyed delving into the world of linguistics, reading comprehension and literacy. I especially enjoyed the phrases and questions you posted. Your image of phonology is tempting me to take another course in linguistics, it is simply fascinating. Voted up!

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Au fait,

        Thank you very much for Pinning this hub and sharing it with your followers again. I really appreciate it.

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        6 years ago from North Texas

        Just got a new Pinterest account yesterday and I think this hub is so awesome I'm going to Pin it to my board on 'Education.' Going to share it with my followers again too, since everyone can benefit from the information here.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Ms Dora,

        Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I appreciate your praise and am really happy that you liked this article.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        7 years ago from The Caribbean

        The levels of linguistic awareness are common sense facts, yet it is difficult to think them through on our own. Thanks for this very valuable and well-presented lesson. Voted Up!

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        I'm very happy you found this hub interesting and that it can help you to learn Spanish. I have been having similar problems in trying to improve my proficiency in Thai. My semantic and contextual awareness needs a lot of work.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thank you very much reading and commenting on this hub. I'm happy you find it timely for your literacy/teaching reading course. Have you taught reading for literacy before?

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        I'm happy you liked this hub and found it useful. I would be extremely elated if this hub plays a part in helping someone get proficient in a language. Thank you for voting the hub up, sharing, and pinning it.

      • profile image


        7 years ago

        Very interesting, and I agree as in the comments that this can definitely bring an awareness to foreign language study! I have been studying Spanish (off and on) for 10 years now, and it is very difficult! I think that this article explains some of that, as I have the orthographic techniques (pretty easy since english uses the same alphabet more or less), and I definitely use semantics A LOT (at least verbally) but I am definitely lacking on the phonological and semantic skills, looks like I need to try to get the whole picture together on this.

      • Natashalh profile image


        7 years ago from Hawaii

        This is very timely for me - I'm trying to finish up my semester's work for a literacy/teaching reading course!

      • rajan jolly profile image

        Rajan Singh Jolly 

        7 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

        Interesting, useful and very well explained, Paul. I also feel this hub should be read by people who wish to get proficient in any language.

        Voted up, useful, interesting, shared and pinned.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Au fait,

        Thank you very much for reading this hub. I'm extremely happy that you liked it and found it excellent. Although the article could be even better, I do hope that educators and home schooling parents can learn from it. I appreciate you sharing this article with your followers.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Hi Anselome,

        I'm happy you liked my hub and I thank you very much for your comments. English is difficult for foreigners to learn as seen in my experiences of teaching ESL and EFL. In addition to homonyms, kids have to be aware of slang, colloquialisms, connotative language, and differences between American and British English which I will address in a future hub. You may certainly borrow my test. I hope you find it useful.

      • Anselome profile image

        Steve Anselmo 

        7 years ago from Thunder Bay

        Great article Paul. I've always been one for literacy and understanding. Although it should be said that English is among the most difficult (if not the most difficult) languages to learn. All of the synonyms and homonyms make it very difficult for foreigners to grasp the concept. I know even I struggle with it sometimes, and it's my first (and only) language.

        I may borrow your test. ;)

        Stay excellent!

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        7 years ago from North Texas

        This is such an excellent article. All educators and home schooling parents especially, should read this and learn if they don't already know these things. Even if they do know them, it never hurts to review. I think this hub explains so much that the average person doesn't know and could make a difference in their expectations for their children.

        Voted up, useful, interesting, and awesome. Will share with my followers.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. Your comments about English study in India are really interesting. If you want to learn how to speak and write English very well, you have to start at an an early age of 2-3. English also has to be used as a second language which it is in India as opposed to a foreign language which it is used as in Thailand.

      • sweetie1 profile image


        7 years ago from India


        I agree with you it is not easy to learn foreign language but in all cities in India children learn english in schools from pre nursery classes and usually children can recite about 20 poems, ABCD and count to 100 before they get in nursery. So if the kids are taught from the start then I think they can learn it lot better than when they start to learn say at age of 14 or 15. As Sanskrit is taught as optional subject here in 9th class and No one really knows this language because they only cram it to pass at the age of 14 or 15


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