Five Common Myths About Phonics

Myth #1: Not everybody needs phonics instruction; as long as the student can figure out the words, it doesn’t matter how they do it

-It’s true that some children seem to just “get it” more than others when it comes to reading, but it could be dangerous to ignore the strategy that they employ when it comes to reading.

A good phonics foundation prepares the students for long-term success by equipping them with effective decoding skills. In contrast, students who have not received phonics instruction, instead of solving the phonetic “codes” of the words, tend to rely on workaround strategies such as getting clues from the context or the illustration, predicting, and guessing. And here’s the problem-these strategies are not sustainable. Whereas they might help the students to get through the beginning years of primary school with relative ease, these students are likely to start struggling as the vocabulary complexity increases and their false facade of a “natural reader” starts to break down, as it’s no longer enough to just understand the context clues and make good educated guesses.

So, phonics should be taught to every student as a good phonics instruction cultivates good reading strategies by empowering them with effective decoding strategies that will continue to support students as they advance to higher reading levels.

Myth #2: Phonics puts all the emphasis on decoding the words and prevents students from focusing on meaning

 On the contrary, proficient decoding skills support reading comprehension! Doesn’t it make sense that one needs to know what the words say before they can think about its meaning?

When we as adults read, we are able to direct our attention solely on the comprehension of the words because our brain is able to process and recognize words automatically and instantly. What we may forget is that in order to get there, young readers have to first pass by an earlier stage–understanding letter-sound relationships and recognizing the word as a whole. Once letter-sound correspondences become natural and automatic–which an effective phonics instruction will help to achieve–less energy will subsequently be spent on trying to figure out a word, and more will then go to processing the word’s meaning!

Myth #3: There are too many exceptions in the English language for it to be taught phonetically

 It is true that the English language is not exempt from having exceptions. But it might just not be as irregular as you may think.

Researchers have concluded that only about four percent of English words are truly irregular. Around 86 percent of all English words are phonetic, with 50 percent strictly following set letter-word correspondences, and another 36 percent that contain only one minor irregularity usually pertaining to a vowel sound.

Furthermore, certain “irregularities” are sometimes have enough recurrences that they can actually be grouped into and taught as alternative “patterns”. One such example is the “ough” combination that is sometime pronounced “uff” in words such as “enough, rough, or tough”.

So yes, this means that English can and should be taught phonetically in order to set students up for success in both reading and writing, which is simply the reverse process of reading.

Myth #4: A child who struggles to read/needs phonics must have a learning disability like dyslexia.

While it is possible that students who struggle to read are affected by learning disabilities like dyslexia, there are so many other reasons that also be the cause!

It’s important to first diagnose the student and pinpoint their problematic areas; and when the student is not affected by learning disabilities, poor reading strategies are often the likely culprit. As previously mentioned, students who do not have a solid phonics instruction could be lacking in the decoding tools that are needed for fluent reading. They often read by relying heavily on context clues, guessing, and predicting–which are poor strategies that will increasingly become more ineffective as the students get older, eventually causing students to fall behind.

Myth #5: Decodable books used by phonics-based programs are not authentic texts 

Decodable books, or texts written with a specific phonetic pattern throughout the whole text, often have a reputation of being “boring” with their storylines that don’t make much sense because of the limited word list. But not all decodables are made equal! Here at Phunics, all of our decodable stories are written with engaging storylines that “make sense”–learners will feel like they are reading an actual (and fun) book, not doing some phonics practice. Stories from the same level also have the reoccurring and relatable characters to further engage the readers.

Discover the power of decodable stories today! The first three stories from each level on our site are free for anyone to enjoy. Happy reading!