And what about “phonics”?
is a system for teaching English-speaking
children how to read and write using conventional spelling
Phonics was the way I learned how to read English when I was a
little boy: how, now, brown, cow. I could already speak English.
Nobody needed to teach me how to say the sounds of English. They
did not push it too far, English spelling being so
irregular. And I soon learnt to recognize the words in books
immediately. Looking back on it, learning written English is a
bit like learning Chinese: “look and say” is really the only
way. It could even be argued that the open-minded intelligent
child will soon notice that English spelling is silly and that
phonics is a bit of a sham, resulting in viewing teachers with
is not the same thing at all. It offers a way
of representing the sounds of a language with corresponding special
, in a similar manner to that by which music can be
represented with a set of notes. Simplified Standard Sound
Symbols (S4) is a set of such symbols just for the sounds of
American and British English. It is "phonemic" in that each of
its symbols represents a sound that needs to be distinguished
from another one in the set to convey meaning as, for instance,
in the case of 'ship' and 'sheep'. It is a complete system that
provides the EFL teacher with a reliable and logical framework
for teaching students to accurately say and recognize the sounds
This is what Professor John Wells
has to say about phonics
Learning the sounds?
according to a Sunday Times “briefing”on dyslexia (18 Jan.,
main section, p. 20) is a system in which children are taught
the 43 sounds of English and how to blend them.
Oh no it isn’t. It
is a reading scheme. English-speaking children who are ready
to learn to read and write already know the sounds of
English. What they need to learn are the letters and
the letter combinations that correspond to them in writing.
True dyslexia (if it
exists) involves the inability to identify letter shapes. If
a b looks to you
like a d, or you can’t
reliably tell apart a p and
a q, then you do
indeed have a special problem in visual perception.
very sensibly concentrates first on the regular
spelling-to-sound correspondences. Rather than the rival whole
word schemes (“look and say”), children first learn to spell
out C-A-T = cat (which
they can already name as a /kæt/). The cat sat on the mat.
As explained in
Synthetic phonics emphasizes the
one-to-one correspondences between phonemes and graphemes.
In synthetic phonics programs students say the sounds for
the graphemes they see and orally blend them together to
produce a spoken word. In the context of phonics, the wordblend takes on a
different meaning from its use in linguistics.
(In phonics, a blend
is a letter combination, such as sh = ʃ.)
children learning to read experience a special difficulty: the
irregularity and inconsistency of our spelling-to-sound
correspondences. Learning to read and write imposes an extra
burden on the memory not required of, say, Swedish- or
Polish-speaking children. It seems reasonable to conclude that
some cases of supposed dyslexia may be due to difficulty in
surmounting this extra hurdle.
After all, there are
very few adults who are entirely confident in their ability to
spell every word they need. Most adults make occasional
spelling mistakes, and many make lots.
Many years ago I was
engaged to teach some elementary phonetics to teachers of
reading. I was astonished how difficult they, of all people,
found it to distinguish between speech (something you can
hear) and writing (something you can see).
I encountered one
teacher who honestly believed that θ as in thing consists of
a t-sound followed by an h-sound.
It looks as if the
anonymous Sunday Times reporter may be guilty of the same