Do Children Learn to Read Because of Nature or Nurture?

Nature vs. nurture?  When it comes to literacy, a professor is saying it's nurture, all the way.

According to, a University at Buffalo education professor has found that a child’s ability to read "depends mostly on where that child is born, rather than on his or her individual qualities."

Ming Ming Chiu says that individual characteristics make up only 9% of the differences between a child who can read and one who cannot.

What affects this heavily is the country in which a child is born, says Chiu, lead author of an international study that explains this connection and a professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction in UB’s Graduate School of Education. He adds that this largely determines whether he or she will have at least basic reading skills, according to

The Web site reports that it's clearly a case where 'nurture' — the environment and surroundings of the child — is more important than 'nature — the child’s inherited, individual qualities, according to Chiu.

I remember when my son was learning to read.  This was the summer before he started kindergarten and we would lie on his bed before every nap and read the same four books.  To give myself a break so I wouldn't go out of my mind having to read whether Papa could bring me the mountain yet again, I started helping him identify the word "the."  True, that's not quite reading, but he became very excited (and so did I) when I'd be reading and he'd say, "Mommy, look, a 'the'!"

It's already been proven that children who are not around parents who talk a lot, and use a lot of vocabulary, are at a loss when they start school.  According to, word knowledge is among the most critical pieces of language development.  And language development is one of the ways we learn to read.

More than 99 percent of fourth-graders in the Netherlands can read, but only 19 percent of fourth-graders in South Africa can read, Chiu notes at 

“Although the richest countries typically have high literacy rates exceeding 97 percent,” he says, “some rich countries, such as Qatar and Kuwait, have low literacy rates — 33 percent and 28 percent, respectively.”

As to be expected, children from more "privileged" homes, where many books are available, develop better reading skills more quickly.  Chiu had this sobering assessment to make: "“Our U.S. culture values ‘can-do’ individualism, but we forget how much depends on being lucky enough to be born in the right place."


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