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

Filed Under (NLP coaching learning difficulties) on 01-08-2010

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Phonics in teaching and learning English are a subject of debate. Hence I offer you this poem for a start:

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!

Then 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.

Phonics can be confusing at the beginning of teaching / learning some languages

The poem demonstrates that English should be the last language on earth to be taught by the method of phonics at the beginning.  Phonics have their place, but can be confusing at the beginning of teaching and learning English. This is because the letters are often pronounced differently from how they should logically sound.  In languages that are very phonetic, such as Spanish, pronunciation of letters is far more predictable and consistent than in English and other languages that are not phonetic. Yet many an educational system in the English-speaking countries still teaches phonics at the early stages.  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 the words in a thousandth of the time it would take to pronounce the words!  If I show you a picture, 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 take in the colors, brightness, shapes, content, details, sizes, proportions, distances… How long would it take you to verbally describe all that you see?  Several minutes.  That’s because sound goes in time.  A musical composition lasts several minutes, a sentence of spoken words lasts several seconds.  But a picture, a statue, or a building take a fraction of a second to look at and see.

When letters look differently from how they sound…

then phonics don’t work at 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. And you’re mismatching the learning channels: visual and auditory [hearing]. Pronouncing phonics = the hearing channel. Seeing a word in the imagination as a photograph = the visual channel. To spell well you must see the word first and then learn to pronounce it.

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 difficulties with learning literacy. If you’re curious about more NLP ways to help learning difficulties in teaching / learning English, let’s start a conversation.

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