Why Phonics Are Not Suitable for Early Stages of Teaching / Learning English

Filed Under (UnLearning Difficulties With NLP) on 19-03-2010

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I take it you already know of tough and bough and cough and dough…

Others may stumble, but not you, on hiccough, thorough, slough, and through.

Well done!  And now you wish, perhaps, to learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word that looks like beard and sounds like bird.

And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead; for goodness’ sake, don’t call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat, they rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother, not both in bother, broth in brother.

And here is not a match for there, nor dear and fear for bear and pear.

And then there’s dose and rose and lose, just look then up – and goose and choose!

And cork and work and card and ward and font and front and word and sword.

And do and go, then thwart and cart – come, come!  I’ve hardly made a start!

A dreadful language?  Why, man alive! I mastered it when I was five!

And yet to write it the more I try, I’ll not learn how til the day I die.

Need I say more?  Well, perhaps.  The poem demonstrates that English should be the last language on earth to be taught by the method of phonics at the start.  Phonics have their place, but not at the start of teaching English.  Yet many an educational system in the English-speaking countries has still not embraced this principle.  And that accounts for a large proportion of why some of our brightest children sit in special needs schools and some of our brightest adults sit well under the heights they could have reached.  Why is this?

If a picture says a thousand words, it also says them in a thousandth of the time it would take to pronounce the words!  If I show you a photo, how long does it take you to look at it and see what’s in it?  A fraction of a second.  And in this fraction of a second you’ll easily take in the colors, brightness, shapes, content, details, sizes, proportions, distances… How long would it take you to verbally describe all that you see?  A few minutes.  That’s because sound goes in time.  A musical composition lasts several minutes, a string or sentence of spoken words lasts several seconds.  But a picture, a statue, or a building will take a fraction of a second for you to look at and see.

So the moral of the story is: phonics don’t work in the beginning stages of teaching and learning English and any language which is written differently from how it sounds.  This is because if you spell a word phonetically and do not see it, your pronouncing of each letter goes in time.  By the time you get to the middle of the word you’re lost, because you have no visual support to get you to the end of the word.

If teachers of 4 year-olds grasp this simple principle and teach children to see words in their imaginations as photographs, we’ll have no literacy-related learning difficulties.

Contact me for more information on how you can help learning difficulties with NLP in teaching / learning English.

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