About Phonics


Phonics.cz - When English Makes Sense
Phonics is a method for teaching reading and writing the English language and is extensively practised in all English speaking countries. Historically, phonics has been widely used in primary education and in teaching literacy throughout the English-speaking world and all primary school teachers would agree that it is hardly possible to teach children how to read, write and use the English language without being introduced to phonics. However, this method is not widely known by teachers and professionals in the Czech Republic. Thus English language students often memorize vocabulary in terms of spelling and pronunciation and struggle making connections between sounds and spelling patterns in English.
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It is certain yet pitiful that the method of phonics is overlooked in teaching EFL children here in the Czech Republic. In our experience, the reasons for this include the lack of opportunities to unravel the language principles thoroughly and systematically, the professionals' hesitancy in applying these principles and the method of phonics generally as well as a slight confusion over the terms of “phonological awareness”, “phonemic awareness” and “phonics” . Our ambition is to give all teachers, parents and children the confidence to apply phonics in their day to day interaction with the English language and make their experience with the language enjoyable.
Phonological awareness is a general appreciation of how spoken language can be divided into its components. Most EFL beginner students find it difficult recognise words while listening to English conversations. It is their expanding experience with the spoken language that enables them to hear separate words within a sentence or break words into syllables. The ability to break sentences and words in such ways is, regardless the language we speak, an important and reliable predictor in our reading ability. Rhyme and alliteration (the repetition of the same sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence or phrase) also fall under the category of phonological awareness. Have you ever noticed that most English children's stories use alliteration (ie. Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Finley the Fire Engine)? This is done purposefully - to increase children's phonological awareness at this young age therefore make their latter reading efforts successful.
Phonics and phonemic awareness are not the same. Phonemic awareness is only about hearing and manipulating the individual speech sounds in words. The best way to remember the difference between these two terms is to know that any phonemic awareness skills can be “done in the dark”. In order to learn phonics you need to see the letter as well as hear the sound it makes since phonics involves how speech sounds correspond to the written letter or letter combinations. It is, in a way, a code (sound-symbol) to the word recognition. For example, the letter A itself makes a short sound (A for apple) but in some cases (ie. when it's followed by Y) it makes a long sound (as in may, day or play). The goal of phonics is to enable beginning readers to decode written words by sounding them out, or in phonics terms, blending the sound-spelling patterns. It is also your knowledge of phonics that is responsible for the correct spelling of a given word.
Phonemic awareness refers to the word “phoneme” which means sound. When a word is broken down into its smallest unit, a sound (or phoneme), the term “phonemic awareness” is used. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes (sounds). Phoneme isolation, blending, and segmenting are several skills that fall under this category. For example, separating the spoken word "cat" into three distinct phonemes, /k/, /æ/, and /t/, requires phonemic awareness. What word do we get from "cat" after swapping the first sound, /k/ with the /h/ sound? What word do we hear when "dog" is said backwards? Your phonemic awareness will help here!
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In their phonics lessons, children around the world learn that each letter of the alphabet has its sound - phonetic alphabet - and build up “codes” for various short and long sounds that the English language consists of. Our experience with phonics as a method of teaching brings this approach closer to English language students as well as EFL teachers and assists them in understanding the language roots and principles. Phonics does make the learning and teaching English meaningful!
© 2014 Katerina Gacek