Millions of people all over the world are illiterate and in industrialised Western countries, such as the UK and the USA, approximately 20% of the population have 'low literacy levels'.



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By Linda Baxter

I’ve written this article and you’re reading it. So we are members of the same club. We’re both literate – we can read and write. And we both probably feel that literacy is essential to our lives. But millions of people all over the world are illiterate. Even in industrialised western countries, such as the UK and the USA, approximately 20% of the population have 'low literacy levels'. But what exactly does that mean?

My parents both left school at 14. They could read and write, but except for a quick look at the daily newspaper, reading and writing didn't play a big part in their lives. There were very few books in the house. My mother was amazed because the woman who lived next door always wrote a list of what she needed before she went to the supermarket. Why couldn't she remember? We laughed about that for weeks. Our family didn't write lists! And when I was only 14 years old my father gave me an important letter that he'd written to the bank and asked me to check it for grammar and spelling mistakes. And there were quite a lot. He never usually wrote letters or postcards or even Christmas cards. So when he had to write he wasn't comfortable or confident. Does that mean that my father had a 'low level of literacy'? I don't think so.

What is illiteracy?

There are lots of different definitions of literacy. Some experts define it as having the reading and writing skills that you need to be independent in your everyday life. So, for example, if you can read instructions, write a cheque, fill in a form, – anything that you need to do in everyday life – then you are 'functionally literate'.

Other people say that you are illiterate if you think that you are illiterate. In other words, if you feel that you can't read or write as well as you would like to.

If you live in a society where most people are literate then you will feel ashamed or embarrassed and avoid situations in which you have to read or write. The father of a friend of mine finally admitted to his family that he couldn't read when he was 45 years old. He bought the newspaper every day and pretended to read it - and believe it or not, his family had no idea.

Literacy in the past

We often forget that writing is a recent invention. Many years ago, the word 'literate' meant being able to communicate well in speaking, in other words what we now call 'articulate'. Story telling was an important activity in the past and still is today in some societies. Reading was often a co-operative activity – someone would read aloud to a group, often from a religious text such as the Koran or the Bible.

Only a hundred years ago, in the United States, you were considered to be literate if you could sign your name to a piece of paper. It was an important skill. You were not allowed to vote if you couldn't sign the voting register, so literacy was connected with political rights, and many people were excluded from the democratic process.

Nowadays we see reading and writing as being connected, but that wasn't so in the past. Many people could read, but not write. Writing was a skilled profession. If you needed something written then you paid an expert to write it for you. And of course, rich and important people have always employed people to write things for them. Important company bosses dictated letters to their secretaries or personal assistants. And now with new computer software you can dictate directly to your computer.

Is literacy important?

Being illiterate can have a big effect on people's lives. For example, a study in the UK showed that people who write and spell badly are seen as careless, immature and unreliable, and often unintelligent. So it is more difficult for them to find jobs, even when reading and writing are not necessary for the work.

World-wide statistics show that literacy problems are associated with poverty and a lack of political power. More women than men are illiterate. Illiterate people have worse health, bigger families and are more likely to go to prison. So literacy campaigns must be a good thing. But don't forget that an illiterate person, or someone with a low level of literacy, isn't necessarily stupid or ignorant – and may not be unhappy at all. Knowledge and wisdom isn't only found in writing.





I mean people's thoughts

I think, in order to write you must be able first of all to read, reading frees people's mind from ignorance. In the history we've seen that many good books had already changed people thoughts and behaviours. For example: it liberated people from slavery.

I agree with the writer because too many people do not know how to write or read, but they know more things that some people that know how to do it, and this is because they are from another generation, therefore they have learnt from the experience or the process of things and when they were learning those things they did not have a book to know how they could have done it, they just follow the rest who knew how to do it, besides intelligent people is not only who knows to be a perfect literate, many people can be very intelligent in others way, this is only one aspect which allows us to improve our capacities but not all of them, because We certainly are more than a letter or a good book. Humans are more than that for sure.

Hello everyone ,I really enjoyed it reading along . The problem is i'm in this situation where I can communicate fluently in English but its too hard to read and write, its so frustrating .I think its so important to know how to read and write. I'm looking for books to start to read at night any sugestions please? Many thanks in advince.

Literacy is not just that if a man can write or read well then he is literate but to me
the literate person is one who like to read and write
and one who have a broad mind he should not have a narrow thinking
the one who likes to talk to others
on different kinds of topics for knowledge

Literacy nowadays still a big debate like before. The definition of being literate or not is modifiable with time. An other point, i want to say that when we use computer software to dictate to, it doesn't help to correct spelling mistakes or to improve writing skills, it's actually making the computer doing your job.

Feel so happy to focus on all the lessons, informations brought us from British Council. its so great of you. thank you very much.


i can not read anything please help me!

Your Texts:

Ali Charles writes "I must say that I am very impressed with the article as it opened my eye to the real meaning of the word LITERACY. I am from the western part of Africa were only the most privileged get the opportunity to go to school to learn how to read and write. Just like the writer said, an illiterate person or someone with a low level of literacy isn't necessarily stupid or ignorant and may be unhappy. Many people in that region would wish to be in school but due to the circumstances they find themselves in, they are unable to achieve that. You see that most times, they are able to express themselves ,and deal with situations in a way that is better than their counterparts that saw the four walls of a class room. They feel sad because they know that they would have been able to do better in dealing with issues if not for their limitation."

Ravikumar writes "The article about iliteracy is written with practical sense. Even a person who is literate in one or many languages would also be considered as iliterate when he could not be able to communicate in other languages that he does not know. so, literacy and iliteracy depend on the language and geographical area where he is now. For example, I am in India, which has 17 offcial languages including English. My mother tongue is Tamil and I can understand English as well, but I couldn't understand any other languages in India. So, I feel that I am iliterate when I go to other states in India. So, I would really prefer to do my further studies abroad where I could be literate with English."

J. Carlos Garcia V. from Mexico writes "Illiteracy is not only a concern in under developed countries, however the effect in our countries is more notorious. I had some experience as a lecturer in a public university, as part of the work I used to assign reading of reseach papers to the class and ask them for a written report. The reports were full of grammatical mistakes and a lack of good writing. I think that demostrates basic education has failed so that students at higher education don't perform well on skills considered necessary in order to be literate."

Ejaz Ahmad writes "I am impressed to see the article. In my opinion literacy means you can communicate your ideas and understand other views in listening and writing also."

"Wonderfulkiki1" from China writes "Literacy is really a big problem in China as in the poor countryside around 50% of children cannot go to school and illiteracy is not seen as a big or shameful problem as most parents cannot write as well. I am surprised that in western countries there are still people that are illiterate. Anyway,the worldwide movement of civilization is struggling against illiteracy, and I hope one day everyone is literate, although illiteracy doesn't mean stupid or unintellectual."