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Students can pick up speaking, but can't pick up reading. Why?

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Because we hear of parents who are not sure why we need phonics, we have written a very updated version of an earlier blog.

Parents may have heard from friends, or teachers, or family that lots of looking at words and looking at pictures will develop reading skills. What we know is that there is no way around the hard work of learning how to read well. And when you do that, there is a new world of knowledge available.

There are two very strong reasons why lots of looking at words and looking at pictures almost never works.

The first one is that reading is about the sounds of words that have meaning. This means that in the first instance learners need to know the meaning and the sounds before they start to learn reading.

In other words, they need some listening and speaking fluency already. If your child is not learning their mother tongue, but is learning a new language, trying to learn to read without learning the specific skills in phonics will create short-, medium- and long-term challenges for your child.

The skills pathway from knowing sounds and knowing words to being able to read them is the pathway of phonics.

The second, and even more significant, reason is that some parents and teachers assume we can learn reading naturally in the same way we can learn with complete fluency how to listen and speak.

What this fails to recognise is that listening and speaking are biologically primary knowledge (see the works of D.C. Geary). Acquiring listening and speaking is built into the DNA of humans and we all can learn to do what is a highly complex skill without being taught. Reading and writing are a completely different kind of knowledge (biologically secondary knowledge) – we can’t do them without being taught.

It is impossible to pick up reading and writing in the way that you can pick up listening and speaking. It is because reading and writing are structured in a way that we invented, and we need very specific skills to learn how to do that.

Now back to that article on phonics 😊

The components of reading

· Vocabulary – you ‘know’ word meaning and sound

· Phonological awareness – you recognize different sounds

· Phonics skills & sight words – you know that letters represent sounds

· Fluency – you process quickly

· Comprehension – you make meaning

The path to reading

1. Word recognition: encoding (sound to spelling) decoding (spelling to sound).

Through word recognition, you can read fluently and automatically because you know letters match sounds and sounds match letter.

You can achieve this because you

· build up a store of words that are instantly recognized and understood on sight

· segment sounded words into phonemes so you can see the sound

· use the phonemes to spell words

· blend phonemes you see so you can read

2. Word structure and spelling

You achieve this because you

· learn segmenting (breaking) words into phonemes for spelling

· learn the reverse of blending (putting together) phonemes into words for reading

· spell words accurately by knowledge of letters and sounds

· use a range of approaches to learn and spell irregular words

3. Understanding and interpreting texts

You achieve this because you can

· find information, events, or ideas

· work out and understand information, events, or ideas

· use word order, context, word structures and origins to develop understanding of

word meanings

· explain and comment on text

4. Engaging with and responding to texts

You achieve this because you can

· read independently for purpose, pleasure, and learning

· engage with, and respond to, texts

· comment on writer purpose and viewpoints, and the overall effect of the text

The app we recommend for learning phonics is

Let us know if you need an exceptional tutor to help with your learning

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