Phonics vs. whole-of-word – a recap

I and others from a range of ethnicities learned English as a second language, quite successfully, through sounding out each letter of the alphabet. I taught my children, a granddaughter, some teenage Chinese students, and some Indian shopkeepers to read in exactly the same way. This process was, and is, simple and clean; there is no need to memorise each word – until one comes across the idiosyncrasies of the English language. Examples are teak/steak; rough/cough/bough/nought. Then one learns to pronounce each of such words as a special case. This requires memorising.

In contrast, the whole-of-word approach requires memorising each and every word. But, how is a 4 to 5-year old to know how to pronounce a word without initially sounding out the letters? Try ‘kingfisher,’ a picture of which may be found in a child’s book. How are the children to read this word without trying to sound it out? Oh, the teacher will tell them, and hopefully they will remember the pronunciation! How many such words are children required to remember so early in life? Why should they be forced to do so?

Is this why so many of our youth cannot spell correctly? Worse still, I have met teachers who denied the right of children to be taught through phonics – why? Some other teachers say that not all children are able to learn through phonics; but where is the evidence? We combine both approaches, say other teachers. Of course we do – because of the idiosyncrasies of the language (as I have set out above). Try teaching ‘idiosyncrasy’ through whole-of word, and see if the child can remember it.