Phonics are only part of the story

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
The Government's, and hence OFSTED's, commitment to phonics as the principal method of teaching reading is not in doubt. Recently, I gained an unexpected insight into the consequences of an over-emphasis on phonics.

My six-year-old grand-daughter is quite fluent at reading, having made rapid progress during the past few months. Last week when visiting our home she decided, unprompted, to conduct an investigation into the weights of objects she found near our digital postal scales. Unaided and unobserved she drew up a neat table for her results, recorded the weights in grammes (using seven-segment digits carefully copied from the scales), and added the names of the objects along with simple sketches of them.

What is interesting is the phonetic spellings she used for the names: "gloy gum" (copied from the bottle); "radiehow" (radio); "qen's" (pens); "tichow" (tissue).

Confusion between p and q, as between b and d, is not uncommon, and is not the point here. Clearly, the over-emphasis on phonics has given her the false impression that the spelling of words can be deduced from their pronunciation. The fact that for many words the spelling has to be learned has apparently not come home to her.

In the teaching of reading, surely it is time that the complexities of the English language (in contrast to some other languages) were adequately taken into account, and phonics recognised as a necessary, but not sufficient method?

JOHN BAUSOR

5 Longcrofte Road

Edgware

Middlesex

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