English is a difficult language to learn how to read. Not because it’s more sophisticated than other languages. It’s not. All languages are complex. English is uniquely challenging because it is not entirely phonetic. If you want to learn to read English, you have to embrace the fact that there are many exceptions to spelling rules.
English is more difficult to learn how to read than Finnish, German, Italian and Spanish, whose spelling systems are transparent. An English reader takes an extra two years of schooling to reach the same level of a French reader (Goswami et al., 1998). English is borrowed from meaning languages. Therefore, when a student tries to learn to read English, she’s essentially trying to break multiple phonetic codes. English is a mesh of European languages, and attempting to learn to read English can prove to be a frustrating task, especially for ESL students.
However, learning to read English can be made simpler with the right instruction. To learn to read English, students need:
Phonics provides readers with a method to tackle new words. Contrary to what many think, there are lots of phonetic English words. Even those words that aren’t entirely phonetic do have at least some phonetic components that help readers. Phonics progress readers quickly. Those K-2 readers who are stuck below grade-level and have little confidence need phonics instruction. Often, these readers are victims of an atrocious way to teach reading called whole language (which doesn’t teach phonics at all).
Sight words violate phonics rules. Sight words often have at least some phonic components; Sometimes the first and last letters cue the reader, as in “could” where the c and d are phonetic. With memorization strategies and some phonics, readers can learn to recognize sight words.
The Reading Elephant library has phonics books that introduce sight words.
Once a student knows how to read single-syllable words, the next level is learning how to read words with more than one syllable. Readers then need to know how to read syllable-by-syllable. This can be a confusing process, especially for dyslexic readers, because vowels say different sounds in polysyllabic words based on their position in the syllable.
Sight syllables are common spelling units in polysyllabic words. Like sight words, sight syllables are not entirely phonetic. Thankfully, there are only about fifty sight syllables students need to memorize to make huge progress. Knowing sight syllables significantly helps children read and spell.
Check out the printable phonics books library designed to help students learn to read English.