Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hukt on Fonix

There are elements missing from the layman's whole language/phonics discussion which are present in the more rigorous scientific discussion. I would like to add several of those simpler elements in, free of jargon, simply to elevate the level of discussion -- on both sides.

Everyone claims their method works better. Their arguments, however, tend to revolve around why each method should work better. Because good readers move quickly to whole language, why not skip the phonics step altogether? Or contrarily, If you can read phonics you can decode almost anything without assistance. Additionally, there is the sense that phonics is the old-fashioned way, whole language is the newer, advanced way, each side drawing some adherence on that basis alone.

In languages more consistently phonetic, such as German, there is no question. Teaching phonics is so obviously superior in such situations that whole language is not even considered. At the other extreme, there is no sense in teaching phonics in China, as the writing is pictographic. Spanish and French are phonetic enough that phonics is superior.

English lies farther out. It is essentially phonetic, but so littered with exceptions that phonics is not an infallible key to decoding. As with irregular verbs that we have to "just learn" because there is no rule, there are irregular spellings which we have to "just learn" to pronounce.

The scientific evidence is mixed, but tends to favor phonics. That is more a statement about the English Language than it is about the teaching method. If English were more phonetic, phonics would look even better. If English were less phonetic, phonics would be less useful. The reason that we have a controversy at all is because English is predominantly, but not entirely, phonetic. There are readers who learn almost entirely by the whole language method, but when you break down what they are doing, they are reverse-engineering their own phonics methods when they encounter an unfamiliar word, usually making inspired guesses on the basis of the first and last letters and the word length. Less often, something very unusual about a word will make it stand out, such as the two z's in "pizza," which children often pick up on their own once they start reading, moving back and forth between the context cues, repetition, simplified phonics, and bright neon, reminders to take in the whole word.


Ymarsakar said...

I combined phonics when learning English, with the exceptions. And with a lot of practice and failures, I arrived at the ability to read, write, and spell while writing and while reading to an exceptional evel. Almost 100% perfect.

Some things are weird, like now and not. I tend to not notice typing not instead of now, unless I consciously take notice.

Other things like lied lyed, lying, lieing. That's a black hole for me. I have to look it up always.

Other words like sovereign just takes a few memory notes. To get reign with sove.

Otherwise it would be soveregin or soverein.

A lot of the ability to memorize the excepts and to wield them with exacting skill, has to do with visualization. You must be able to look at a word and then use parallel thinking, and decide whether that word "looks" right or not. Then you say the word, and decide using the same means, if the word looks like it spells.

sovereign doesn't look like it would spell, but since it looks RIGHT (after you see it the first time) then it feels right regardless of what it "should" sound like. That way, I incorporate exceptions to the rule without actually running those exceptions in my head and making a list, and doing it twice or something.

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