Articles for Teachers

ESL Phonics
By:Eric K Dolan

I've found that the main issue with a lot of people teaching ESL phonics is that they seem to make more mistakes than some of the other commercially available phonics programs. Some of ESL teachers are trying to teach phonics when it's quite clear that they have no practical experience on teaching reading skills to children.

This issue stems from the fact that many ESL teachers go into teaching English without much training at all. It's an easy field to get into, with no stringent screening requirements. Anyone can put up a few classified ads offering their teaching services and start making money teaching. But do you really want just anyone teaching your children phonics? Of course not! You want the best phonics training available. And the excellent part isn't, even if your native language isn't English there are ways to quickly teach your child the skills to learn English. There are some minor issues that crop up though that I want to discuss (if your language native language isn't English and you plan on teaching reading skills in English).

The process of learning to read can be broken down into some pretty simple steps. Simple to understand, but they take time to be understood and absorbed by your child.

1. Step 1: Letter Recognition Skills: Make sure your child can recognize and name all the letters of the alphabet (both upper case and lower case). This can be challenging for some of the lower case letters (like p and q and b and d which are quite similar to young children). Some people consider being able to write these letters another critical part of learning to read, but I think some young children who lack the motor skills to write the letters will still be able to learn how to read words that use them.

2. Step 2: Sounds of the letters: There are 44 sounds in the English language and 120 graphemes (ways of representing those sounds). The sound /f/ can be represented by "ph" and "f" for example. Elephant and fish both have the /f/ sound, but it's spelled in different ways. For a full list of these sounds, visit my site or just search for "synthetic phonics phonemes and graphemes" and you'll find charts that will show you how these sounds and grapheme correlations work. Also, if your native language isn't English you might have some tiny worries about pronunciation. When I taught in Japan, we had a lot of practice on students' properly saying "l" and "r" sounds.

3. Step 3: Blend the letters together to form words: I usually start with two letter combinations, like "at" and "ut" and see if it's possible for your child to sound them out. If they've already done step two, they'll find it surprisingly easy to do. Then I move into three letter words, like "cat" and "cup".

4. Step 4: Practical application: In this stage, I move onto reading. Not just any books, mind you, but "decodable readers". These are books that your child, with a little assistance, practice, and phonics training, will be able to read on their own. It will be really exciting for you and your child in this stage, because they'll actually be reading. A lot of people find "decodable books" a little too dry and boring, and they want to start with something too difficult. I like to make the skiing comparison. Even though black diamond is more exciting than the bunny hill, would you really want to learn to ski on it?

That concludes my little article on ESL phonics. Hope you enjoyed it!

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