Simple View of Reading

The Simple View of Reading proposes that reading is the product of decoding and listening or linguistic comprehension. Decoding, in this model, refers to the ability to obtain a representation from print to remember the meaning of a word. Language comprehension refers to the ability to take the meaning of words to obtain meaning at the sentence and word level of input that have been presented orally. Reading comprehension requires the combination of both processes to derive meaning from text (Hoover & Gough, 1990).  The “language comprehension” component of the Simple View of Reading states a formula to describe the process required for reading comprehension:  “Decoding X Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension.” The Simple View of Reading is based on this definition of decoding:

Decoding: For the simple view, skilled decoding is simply efficient word recognition: the ability to rapidly derive a representation from printed input that allows access to the appropriate entry in the mental lexicon, and thus, the retrieval of semantic information at the word level. (p. 130)

Nonetheless, the result is important in demonstrating the separate contributions of decoding and linguistic comprehension to reading ability, as the trend is consistent with the view that for skilled reading, skill in both components is required, while a weakness in either component is sufficient for less skilled reading. (p. 147)

Under the simple view of reading, linguistic comprehension and reading comprehension in this individual are equivalent; with respect to current linguistic skill, such a person is fully literate (for reading) since whatever can be comprehended by ear can likewise be comprehended by eye, and vice versa. Simply increasing the decoding skill of such an individual will not increase reading comprehension as the meaning of any words that can now be decoded given the newly expanded skill will still be absent from the internal lexicon. (p. 155)

Cervetti, et al. (2020: S161) on behalf of the Reading for Understanding Initiative, describe reading comprehension as “… a complicated constellation of skills and knowledge…” that is not reflected in the Simple View of Reading. These researchers criticize the Science of Reading advocates for not giving sufficient attention to the research evidence of the significance of listening comprehension in young readers and the importance of early oral language skills that support both decoding and listening comprehension. 

The Complexities of Comprehension

Language is language, regardless of the modality of its delivery into the human brain. Think of Helen Keller, for example. The modality through which she learned language was entirely tactile because she was both blind and deaf. But Helen Keller had to discover language in order to comprehend the modality of finger spelling in her hand, a form of signing, and later in her life, Braile. In fact, sign language for the deaf is a language. There is ample neurological research that supports the notion that listening comprehension and comprehension of written text occur in the same region of the brain that are dedicated to language processing. In fact, literacy begins with writing, not with reading because some author wrote his or her ideas onto a page to communicate those ideas to a reader, using the conventions invented by a sociocultural group to symbolically (graphically) represent language. In the case of alphabetic languages, the graphic representations are related, but not a perfect match to the phonology of the language of the text. A very valuable take-away from the Simple View of Reading is that whatever enhances linguistic comprehension enhances decoding, and vice versa, reciprocally.

Nation (2019) is an Australian researcher who has elaborated on the Simple View of Reading to further explain the complexities of comprehension: 

“First, there is no “magic profile” that captures all children and totally “explains” their poor comprehension. This reflects both the complexity of comprehension and the difficulty of separating one component of comprehension cleanly. This is perhaps not surprising, given the complex nature of reading comprehension, and its dependence on strong content knowledge.

This reflects the fact that once a level of decoding mastery has been achieved, reading comprehension is ultimately constrained by how well an individual understands spoken language or “the ability to take lexical information (i.e., semantic information at the word level) and derive sentence and discourse interpretations.”

Drawing across these studies, a strong case can be made that linguistic comprehension is broadly captured by listening comprehension, that listening comprehension itself subsumes children’s vocabulary, grammar and language processing abilities and that these abilities (along with decoding) predict reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is the product of a complex set of cognitive and linguistic factors operating across a text.”

Empirical Base for the Simple View of Reading

There is an ample base of empirical research that supports an integral and holistic interpretation of the Simple View of Reading and that calls into question the advisability of underestimating the relative contributions of decoding and linguistic comprehension to literacy achievement across the elementary school grades. Storch and Whitehurst (2002) conducted a study of 626 children from preschool through fourth grade. They examined code-related precursors and students’ oral language abilities to their longitudinal reading achievement. These two categories of variables parallel the two components of the Simple View of Reading (Hoover & Gough, 1990). These researchers highlight four significant findings: (a) the relationship between code-related precursors and oral language is strong during preschool; (b) There is a high degree of continuity over time of both code-related and oral language abilities; and (c) during early elementary school, reading ability is predominantly determined by the level of print knowledge and phonological awareness a child brings to kindergarten, and (d) in later elementary school, reading accuracy and reading comprehension appear to be two separate abilities that are influenced by different sets of skills. Storch and Whitehurst state the following conclusions from their findings:

“Importantly, this study addressed the influence of skills falling into both the code-related and oral language domains over a continuous 6-year period. Moreover, this study demonstrates that the distinction between code-related and oral language skills is not merely an arbitrary, or even theoretical distinction, but rather one that is supported empirically and allows for the recognition of the differential effects of these two domains on later reading achievement. (p. 943)

Importantly, we must be careful not to focus on promoting decoding skills to the exclusion of comprehension skills, even in those readers with decoding difficulties. Though improving code related skills, such as phonological awareness and print knowledge, may necessarily be a focus of intervention in those children who have not yet acquired sufficient skill in reading words, we must not wait until children have solved the decoding puzzle to begin instruction in oral language skills, such as vocabulary and syntax. These oral language skills should be an integral part of reading instruction beginning in preschool and throughout elementary school. Not only are oral language abilities linked to the code-related skills that promote word-reading abilities, but early oral language abilities also provide the foundation for development of the advanced oral language skills necessary for successful comprehension in more skilled readers. These oral language skills should be an integral part of reading instruction beginning in preschool and throughout elementary school. Not only are oral language abilities linked to the code-related skills that promote word-reading abilities, but early oral language abilities also provide the foundation for development of the advanced oral language skills necessary for successful comprehension in more skilled readers. (p. 944)

Future efforts to prevent reading problems need to be sensitive to the developmental relationships between code-related skills, oral language, and reading achievement, and the changing nature of reading during the course of the elementary school years. (p. 945)

We can conclude from this empirical study of the two components of reading comprehension of the Simple View of Reading that the distinction between code-related factors and linguistic factors is not simply a theoretical construct, but rather, it is a distinction that must be attended to in recommendations in literacy instruction and literacy curriculum design and implementation. Next, I discuss the implications of education policy initiatives that dismiss or marginalize the impact of developing second-language oral language abilities of multilingual learners.  

SVR: The Common Thread Research

In a review of the research on the two general components of the Simple View of Reading, Apel (2022) analyzes researchers’ use of a wide range of language and/or listening comprehension measures to consider the relative contributions of decoding and language comprehension. Here are findings from Apel’s research that have broad and important implications for the utility of the SVR framework, especially for literacy and biliteracy education of multilingual learners. 

The SVR model adequately represents the process of reading comprehension. In this article, I propose a common thread that links those diverse measurement tasks: all the tasks measured students’ metalinguistic skills. In fact, the findings from these studies mirror those found from investigations directly measuring the influence of language awareness abilities on reading comprehension. I conclude the article with the theoretical and educational implications of taking a different view of the second component of the SVR model. (p. 434)

By definition, oral or spoken language is the ability to produce and comprehend speech (or other communication modes, such as sign language) through the spontaneous interactive use of five knowledge bases—phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics—during a communicative exchange. (p. 435)

The different lines of research also may occur because there is confusion between language and metalinguistic skills. Language use and comprehension entails a focus on communication, with minimal to no active thought to language itself. Speakers and listeners are producing and comprehending communications that are spontaneous and involve the interaction of all components of language: phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics. (p. 437)

Regardless of whether the linguistic comprehension tasks were labeled as listening or language comprehension measures, and irrespective of whether the task(s) used to assess linguistic comprehension mirrored the reading comprehension task(s) administered, the findings across nearly all studies guided by the SVR model have been similar; the researchers’ measures of decoding and linguistic comprehension explained a large amount of variance on their measure(s) of reading comprehension. This, then, begs the question, “What do all of the listening and language comprehension tasks have in common?” Put another way, “What explains the agreement in findings based on such disparate tasks and differing methods?” One might claim that the two questions are moot. Regardless of inconsistencies, some measure(s) labeled as assessing listening or language comprehension, along with a measure(s) of decoding explained a large amount of performance on a reading comprehension task(s). (p. 438)

In the future, by using similar terms to label tasks administered, it may be possible to obtain a better understanding of which metalinguistic skills best account for reading comprehension performance. By further understanding those contributing abilities, our knowledge of the skills that support reading comprehension will advance. (p. 441)

Adopting the viewpoint of the importance of metalinguistic skills for reading comprehension also is important for researchers interested in studying effective instructions that help students with poor reading comprehension abilities improve those skills. Given the evidence from two different lines of research that demonstrates the important contributions of multiple metalinguistic skills (e.g., phonological awareness, morphological awareness, syntactic awareness) to reading comprehension, then instruction that includes a focus on these multiple language awareness skills seems a suitable target. (p. 442)

The key point here is that there is no need to change the direction of investigations of the SVR or related models to consider how spoken language, the simultaneous use of all five language components to communicate, contributes to reading comprehension. Instead, it is important to acknowledge the true nature of those consistently identified contributors to reading comprehension… That is, a new SVR framework is not necessarily needed; rather, researchers need to identify accurately what their measures of that the model’s second component are assessing (i.e., metalinguistics). In doing so, that will allow two separate lines of research to be joined. By recognizing the two common lines of research, it likely brings us closer to determining effective instruction and intervention approaches for improving reading comprehension. (p. 441)

Click here for more discussion of the metalinguistic approach to language and literacy instruction for multilingual learners.

The Simple View of Reading for Multilingual Learners

The obvious conclusion that must be drawn from a coherent view of reading is that the same knowledge and skills are necessary for comprehending the language of a written text as are required for comprehending speech orally. To understand speech, the listener must understand the semantics meaning of the words used by the speaker. Many of these words have meanings that depend on the linguistic context in which they are used. This context includes the syntax of the phrase or sentence in which the word is used. Words are not understood in isolation in the flow of speech. This is the essence of the Simple View of Reading. Many experienced teachers use a mode of assessment called an informal reading inventory (Ascenzi-Moreno, 2016; Kabuto, 2016). A part of an informal reading assessment is to read a passage to a student and then ask comprehension questions about the passage. If the student can understand the language of the passage read orally, then the probability that s/he can decode the passage is high. The teacher is engaging in assessment practices to discern the correlation between a student’s listening comprehension and his/her reading comprehension. Thus, this assessment procedure is an enactment of the Simple View of Reading. 

As teachers of students who are second language learners of English and are in the process of learning to comprehend oral English, teachers need to be knowledgeable about semantics as vocabulary knowledge. This involves an understanding of the grammatical and syntactic meaning and functions of words within sentences and discourse, the whole linguistic context of written text.

The broader implication of the Simple View of Reading is this: Whatever the learner learns that enhances linguistic comprehension, also enhances decoding, and vice versa. Whatever the learner learns that enhances decoding, enhances linguistic comprehension. These two components are not in competition with each other. The notion that instruction in meaning-making strategies “dilutes” decoding instruction is logically incoherent. Consequently, attempts to discredit or ban instructional strategies that focus on the prompting students to focus on any of the subsystems of language contradict the principles articulated in the Simple View of Reading. See further discussion of this argument by clicking on this link to the neuroscience research.


Apel, K. (2022). A different view on the Simple View of Reading. Remedial and Special Education, 43(6), 434-447.

Ascenzi-Moreno, L. (2016). An exploration of elementary teachers’ views of informal reading inventories in dual language bilingual programs. Literacy Research and Instruction, 44(4), 285-308.

Cervetti, G. N., Pearson, P. D., Palincsar, A., Afflerbach, P., Kendeou, P., Biancarosa, G., Higgs, J., Fitzgerald, M. S., & Berman, A. I. (2020). How the Reading for Understanding Initiative’s research complicates the Simple View of Reading invoked in the Science of Reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(51), S161-S172.

Ehri, L. C. (2014). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 5-21.

Hoover, W. A., & Gough, P. H. (1990). The Simple View of Reading. Reading and Writing, 2(2), 127-160.

Kabuto, B. (2016). A socio-psycholinguistic perspective on biliteracy: The use of miscue analysis as a culturally relevant assessment tool. Reading Horizons, 56(1).

Nation, K. (2019). Children’s reading difficulties, language, and reflections on the simple view of reading. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 24(1), 47-73.

Perfetti, C. A., & Stafura, J. (2014). Word knowledge in a theory of reading comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 22-37.

Ricketts, J., Bishop, D., & Nation, K. (2008). Investigating orthographic and semantic aspects of word learning in poor comprehenders. Journal of Research in Reading, 31(1), 117-135.

Silva-Maceda, G., & Camarillo-Salazar. (2021). Reading comprehension gains in a differentiated reading intervention in Spanish based on the Simple View. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 37(1), 19-41.

Storch, S., & Whitehurst, G. J. (2002). Oral language and code-related precursors to reading: Evidence from a longitudinal structural model. Developmental Psychology, 38(6), 934-947.

Verhoeven, L., Voeten, M., & Vermeer, A. (2019). Beyond the simple view of early first and second language reading: The impact of lexical quality. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 50, 26-36.