Expert Advice on Phonemic Awareness and Phonics

Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made up of individual sound units called phonemes and that those sounds are distinct. Phonics is the interconnection between letters and their sounds. Be it a child or an adult, phonemic awareness and the understanding of phonics are essential for any person who is learning to read English.

Does Explicit Instruction On Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Benefit All Students?

While explicit instruction on phonemic awareness and phonics has some positive impact on English Language Learners (ELLs), it is most fruitful for first-language learners. ELLs’ more significant struggle is not having sufficient English vocabulary. They face difficulty with comprehension, as their word bank is limited. 

On the other hand, first-language learners are familiar with English since birth, so they tend to know the meaning of most words. Hence, explicit instruction on phonics helps them translate from print to pronunciation. 

Should We Not Teach Phonics To Second Language Learners? 

Experts who have a lot of experience with children in inner-city schools and children with special needs claim that even though phonics does not help second-language learners as much as it helps first-language learners. For this reason, teachers should teach phonemic awareness to all students. 

Even students who have little to no literacy background but are beginning to learn the English language should be taught phonemic awareness and phonics. It is one of the most critical components of language development.

Key Takeaways For Teachers

For students who already know how to read their native language, teachers should make sure to reduce the amount of instruction on phonics to the extent that there is an overlap between their native language and the level of English they are learning.

It does not make much of a difference if students have phonemic awareness of their native language. Teachers don’t have to worry about it, except in some cases where it could be helpful to focus on English sounds that are absent from the learner’s native language.

Concluding Thoughts

Alongside our strong emphasis on the importance of teaching phonics to children, we also would like to shed light on the fact that many second-language students fail to show adequate reading performance. Teachers often assign extra targeted reading to them and focus on building their phonemic awareness and phonics. 

While that is important, lack of phonemic awareness is not the only factor that needs attention. 

More often than not, second-language students struggle with English comprehension instead of decoding. Instead of focusing on decoding skills, like teaching letter-sound relationships, letter patterns, and pronunciation, teachers and parents should build their vocabulary.

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