On the face of it the teaching phonics is the easiest thing in the world to do. We all know how the letters sound and if you put them together then they make a word that can be sounded out. If only it was that simple, try if for yourself and you soon realise how difficult it is to find words that meet this simplest criteria. The simplest examples are words like ‘to’, t is sounded as tuh, and o is sounded as owe, now put them together and you have toe. If you look at the Welsh alphabet you could be confused for thinking that it has the same sounds as the English alphabet. For example ch in English sounds like the end of the word church, ch in Welsh sounds like an elongated and harsh guttural K. This does mean that if you can say the sound you can say the word. But back to English.
We then need to go to the next stage of phonemes, these are the elements of sounds made up by letters, and if my memory serves me correctly there are 44 of them, but this could have changed as thinking develops. You would think that the problem is now solved and reading would be easier, but no! I met with a very clever lady called Dr Jean Alder who explained that many things you take for granted and the simplest words cause so many problems. She used the word ‘doctor’ to explain how it works. Phonemes make the first part of the word really simple d-o-c-t then what comes next ‘o-r’ but how many people say the ‘or’ at the end, many people say ‘docta’. So how do phonemes work now? Carrie Sabin-Young of Impact Learning talks about blended sounds. This is an eye opener and one of the most useful discussions I had ever had, I just wish I had spoken to her when I first started my teaching career.
Teaching phonics is still fraught with many teaching issues but learning them is one of the most useful skills that we ever have. Many people struggle with phonics especially as time in secondary age learners is at a premium. But how do we encourage secondary age learners to not feel that they are being treated as ‘babies’ by helping them learn how to sound out words. Using Talking Tutor students can listen to the words or sentences that they want to say and practice saying them after it has spoken. They can then repeat this exercise as often as they need to helping them build up their phonic skills at word and sentence level.