Ghoti is Fish? 6 Reasons to Teach Phonics in the ESL Classroom
How can 'ghoti' spell fish? It is a classic phonics example.
Gh as in enough, o as in women, and ti as in nation come together to create the same sound patterns as the letters f-i-s-h! And though it is unlikely that you will give your ESL students this example in a phonics class, understanding the letter patterns in English and the sounds they make can help your students in more ways than one. Here are some reasons to feel good about including phonics in the ESL classroom.
6 Reasons to Teach Phonics in the ESL Classroom
When your students understand how to identify the sounds represented by the letters on the page, they will have better reading comprehension. Hearing a word and learning it is one thing. Recognizing that word on the page is something different. When students can link the black and white word of the page to the living experience of a word they have heard, said and understood, they will naturally have better reading comprehension. This increased comprehension is directly related to their ability to identify words on the page, also known as word identification. When students are familiar with the phonetic patterns of English, they have better word identification and as a result reading comprehension.
Decoding New Words
Not only will your phonics students of English be able to identify the words they have already heard, they will have an easier time decoding new words with which they are not familiar. Since you teach word roots, prefixes and suffixes in your vocabulary lessons, your students who also know phonics will be able to identify those meaningful units in these unfamiliar words and use their knowledge of the phonemes to determine the meaning of the unfamiliar combinations. So whether it is a familiar word in a new part of speech or a word completely foreign to them, your students will have the tools to sort out the puzzle of the word in front of them.
Once your students encounter a new word written on the page, if they know phonics they will be able to accurately pronounce that word, even if they have never heard it before. Language learning may start with the oral and move to the written, or it may follow the sequence in reverse. Your students who know how to pronounce common letter combinations and know the most frequent pronunciations for those combinations will have a better chance of pronouncing words they have only seen in print correctly when they seek to use those words in their spoken English.
More Productive Dictionary Usage
How often do your students use a dictionary? Those with knowledge of English phonetics will have an easier and more productive time using dictionaries to look up unfamiliar words. Knowledge of phonics will help your students translate the written word to the spoken word, but it will also help them accurately translate spoken words to their written forms. Students looking up a new word can use its pronunciation to determine its most probable spelling. In addition, words that do not have expected spellings will also pose no problem for your phonics savvy students since they will know alternate ways of spelling the same sound patterns.
Though there is bound to be a certain amount of memorization that goes along with language learning, teaching your ESL students phonics decreases how much your students must rotely memorize. Rather than memorizing spellings for every new vocabulary word, your students will be able to use their knowledge of phonics to recognize or produce the day’s spelling words based on the phonetic rules they have already mastered.
Making Sense of Spelling
Language is a living entity. It changes over time. (Think about the English that Shakespeare used in comparison to how we speak today.) The spelling system in English, however, has not changed along with the pronunciation, syntax and phonology of the language. Though the English spelling system was originally based on pronunciation of words, the shift in pronunciation coupled with the static spelling system has brought us to a place of discord. The spelling of many English words no longer accurately represents the way they are pronounced (lettuce, for example). Teaching your ESL students phonics sidesteps the changes English has experienced and gives them the tools to read and spell words according to today’s phonetic system.
Various studies have shown that students who know and understand phonics do better in all aspects of reading.
Their word identification, comprehension, fluency, spelling, and word decoding will be better than that of students who do not know phonics. In addition, they will have a more productive experience with dictionary usage and will need to do less rote memorization when learning new vocabulary. Though phonics has not always been popular in the ESL classroom, if you do include the science of sound and spelling, your students will have a reliable tool to help them become better readers of English as a second language.
How do you feel about teaching phonics in the ESL classroom?
Susan likes to enjoy every day to its fullest whether she is freelance writing, teaching homeschoolers, or developing her special talent of instigation. When she is not imagining sand castles or catching others off balance, she cooks, sings, reads and takes walks in the sunshine. She earned an M.A. from the University of Delaware in Linguistics and an M.A. from Trinity School for Ministry in Youth Ministry. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and her three cheepy cockatiels.
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