Nardagani Shares the Gift of Reading By Mike McKenna


Most people would assume that since I’ve written a book and make my living primarily as a writer that I’ve always been a great reader, but that wasn’t the case.

Just like lots of kids, I had trouble reading when I was young. So, I always panicked whenever it was my turn to read aloud in class and spelling bees seemed like a special kind of torture.

I was, however, pretty fortunate, because even though an English teacher once said aloud in class that I was lucky I had my looks, “because your brains are going to get you nowhere,” I was able to scrape my way through high school and college.

But most kids aren’t so fortunate. If kids can’t learn to read using the traditional methods, there is often little hope for them. They’ll grow up thinking they’re dumb, when it’s more than likely the real problem is that the traditional systems used for teaching English are actually failing them.

“Challenged readers are not dumb. Their brains just cannot grasp things in the ways we teach them,” said Narda Pitkethly, the founder of the Nardagani reading program.

Narda has lived in the valley for most of her adult life, including raising two college-aged kids locally. She first moved to Idaho from Japan, where she lived after college. What most impressed Narda during her time in the “Land of the Rising Sun” was how easy it was for her to learn to read Japanese. By using the Hiragana coding system, she was able to learn a language that has thousands of characters, and not just 26 letters, in a week. No wonder Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.  Meanwhile, one in four American kids grows up functionally illiterate.

The Nardagani system has been fine-tuned over the last decade and basically breaks English down into two categories: the 12 letters that only make one sound, and a dozen symbols that represent the sounds the other letters make, either combined or alone. The system is now being studied at Boise State and is full of success stories that include local school children and inmates (about 75 percent of prisoners nationwide are illiterate).

But the best success story involves Sven, an autistic elementary school-aged boy whom teachers said may never learn to read. After just eight lessons with Naradagani, he was reading. If you want to see the face of pure joy, just watch the video of him reading at the top right of this page.

You may want to grab a tissue, and remember not to believe anything negative a teacher tells you.