Phonics: Building foundations in Reading for ESL students

By | August 11, 2009

Phonics teaches a beginning reader to connect sounds to written letters. By teaching children to blend sounds into words it is much easier to teach them letters. Once they know the sounds and associate them with letters, they can blend the letters by ear into words. It has been proven that this is the most effective way to teach children to read and to retain the information they gain through reading.

For instance, even a preschool child can be taught that the letter “P” is pronounced “puh”. This is reinforced by showing him or her the letter and showing them physical objects that begin with “P”. You can show them a pen (puh-e-nuh) or a pet (puh-e-tuh). It’s easy for them to understand letters when they can associate the sound with the symbol.

Once a child knows the sound of the letters and can recognize each symbol, it’s not hard to teach them to blend the sounds to make words. In a short time they will be able to look at the symbols (letters) and be able to sound out a word! A child that sees the word “Cat” will know how to pronounce it by sounding it out—kuh-ae-tuh. Cat! Young minds very quickly grab this concept and run with it. They are excited because they are now able to make sense of those formerly puzzling symbols. Most children in this initial phase will try to read nearly everything they can find! It is up to the teacher to present them with interesting material that will maintain their interest.

In the 1950’s a movement began to spurn the phonics method in favor of the “look-see” method of reading. Children fortunate enough to attend schools that didn’t have the means to teach this method learned to read well enough to graduate high school in the late 60’s and early 70’s and go on to university if they so chose. Those exposed to the “look-see” memorization method struggled through primary school and often dropped out in frustration because they were unable to read and comprehend their lessons.

You may also have heard of the “whole language” approach which surfaced in the 1980’s, which relied mainly on the child’s wish to read for instruction. Educators thought that providing motivation, good literature and opportunities to read that children would naturally learn. It also relied on “meaning clues” to determine how to pronounce words the child was not familiar with. Needless to say, another generation was robbed of the joy of reading.

Phonics is the most successful way to teach reading because the concept is simple and so easily understood by children. Barring hearing or sight problems, it is the highest rate of success of any method every devised. It is also fun to learn and lends itself to games of thought as well as action, further motivating a child to not only learn to read but to enjoy it.




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