The battle between phonics-based reading and sight words reading has been on forever.
How do you decide what’s best for your child?
Those who adopt a whole language approach assert that children naturally learn to read when exposed to a language-rich environment, including a heavy reliance on sight words. This method may work well for some children, but it is not without its disadvantages.
Sight words don’t work that well for non-English speakers
For sight words, kids have to see the picture, know what it is called in English and then memorise the word that corresponds with the picture. It works fine when you’re a native English speaker.
But if you’re not a native English speaker – there are three steps to go through before learning the word. See picture. Know what picture is called. Look at the word, memorise the alphabets that make up the words, and then try to remember what the word sounds like.
Focusing on sight words limits the child’s reading vocabulary as she can only read words she’s been taught.
Kids learn faster with phonics.
Phonics equips kids with tools to decode words.
They learn the sound of each individual letters, then put them together and try to decode the word. You don’t need a picture to learn to read English fast. It works really well with kids who don’t speak English as a first language as well.
With phonics a child will first attempt to sound out an unfamiliar word – the pronunciation and reading of it is pretty much settled. Then, if the child doesn’t know what it mean, she’ll ask.
This means whether she’s familiar with a reading material or not, the child will still be confident enough to attempt it. So if you’re living in Indonesia, Thailand or any other part of the world where English is not a first language, phonics programmes are simply the best way to teach English.
Phonics is now compulsory teaching in the UK
After much research and hundreds of years of trial and error, the UK education department has made phonics compulsory in schools. Funding is given to local schools to expedite this and ensure money doesn’t get in the way.
Of course not all words in English are phonetic. And there are many commonly used words that exist purely as sight words and need to be memorised. Our next article will touch on learning how to memorise and spell popular sight words. Stay tuned.