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We all have a limit to our capacity to store very short-term information. The standard range is quoted as seven plus or minus two, for the number of digits a person can recall over a matter of seconds. If you have a good memory you can remember a 9-digit number like 573028912. If you have a weak memory a shorter number like 549823 will be about your limit.

Clearly there are lots of longer phone numbers we can recall from repeated use, but that is using permanent memory systems. By short-term memory I am really just talking about a few seconds.

Short-term memory difficulty can be a problem when you are learning to read by decoding.

As you learn to decode words, you end up stacking lots of auditory information in your short-term memory. If it is at the lower end of the normal capacity range, that task will be hard for you.

The symptoms of this are a great difficulty decoding and blending the sounds of long words and difficulty following the meaning of a sentence.

In time there are ways you can marginally improve your short-term memory through exercise. However, if you are working with a child who is finding this aspect of reading difficult, then slow and steady is the only real way forward.

In the Easyread System we use strong visual cues for each sound in a word (a process called Guided Phonetic Reading), which does help. But improvement still tends to be more incremental for these children.

The good news is that eventually the whole decoding process moves into the “procedural”, automatic memory systems of the brain, which then frees up the “declarative” short-term memory for following the meaning of the sentence.

So there is no reason why someone with a low short-term memory capacity (like me!) shouldn’t learn to read well. It just takes a bit more time and effort with the right support along the way.

David Morgan is CEO and founder of the Easyread System, an online phonics course designed to teach struggling readers how to read. Helping with dyslexia and reading is a primary goal for Easyread.