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Teaching the alphabet as sounds 
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
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The reason I say "A says 'a.'" is because it makes more sense to younger children that way. That mostly deals with young children 4-7 and in an environment where I'm not translating.

My A bit might go something like this:
Mark: What's this letter?
Ss: A!
Mark: Right! How do you read A?
Ss: 'a'
Mark: Right. A says 'a' 'a' as in apple.

So, just to get them to understand that the letter name is different from the sound, I say a variety of different things with no particular love for any:
    A says 'a'.
    A makes the sound 'a'
    A is read 'a'


I use animals as examples as I previously posted to express my point and that's why I use 'A says ..' instead of 'A is said ...' ('Pigs say oink.' not 'Pig is said oink.') I don't think students are confused by it at all. They understand that A (the letter) doesn't actually speak. I doubt they're even paying attention to that. or me for that matter :P

BUT I see your point and I could change to 'A is said ...' and I'm sure it would make no difference at all and be more correct.

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Tue Aug 21, 2007 12:10 pm
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Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:17 pm
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Location: Thailand
Post Jolly Phonics / Alphabet names
Sorry to unearth an old thread but it was so interesting reading what everyone has written that I wanted to put my 2 satangs in!

This is my first year teaching esl to 4-6 year olds. I get approx 10 hours a week with them covering various different subject areas, including reading. The school has basically given me and my colleague who teaches nursery and K1 a free reign to develop our curriculum (as the school is only 2 years old) which is great. We have been using the Jolly phonics system in preparation for reading which has proved to be excellent and really helps us get over those tricky areas of why certain sounds don't act in the same way by also teaching letter combinations.

There are pitfalls in using it though and I would be interested to know who else uses it and what if anything has helped them get over these issues....

Firstly the JP system was set up for native speakers. It was expected to be used every day with the homeroom teacher with a new sound being taught on a daily basis. As there seems no point learning to read if you don't understand any words (!) I am concentrating more on vocab which leaves only one lesson a week for a new JP sound. This means at the start of the second semester we still have about 10 or so sounds to go. It feels very slow and I wonder if the slowness is going to affect their absorbtion of the jolly phonics system? We regularly go over old sounds using a variety of revision techniqus so I know that they are remembering them but I want to know if this feeling of slowness is something shared by others? I know it is something non English staff are noticing and they would be expcting them to already be able to spell dog, cat etc (more on that later)

Secondly I am starting to come up against little pockets of resistance amongst the Thai staff. They learnt english in the rote learning method (which I abhor as you are only able to spell words you have repeated 500 times to your teacher) and therefore find our method bizarre. They at the same time as us teaching are doing their own english with the children as part of the Thai curriculum (we are trying to put a stop to this..) which has meant that I have had to start teaching the alphabet names faster than I would have liked as they have already looked at them in Thai lessons. I too came up with the animal sounds idea to explain this (great minds think alike!) ..."What is the name of this animal" "Dog" What sound does the animal make" "woof", "what is the name of this letter?" "a", what is the sound of this letter "ah". This seems to be working but the Thai teachers are still having their doubts. I am truely committed to this system as it is the only method that makes any sense to me, but how do I prove to the teachers besides producing fluent english readers at age 5, that it is beneficial? Has anyone else come up with any kind of resistance to phonics from non native speakers and if so how did they get round it?

Lastly what are peoples thoughts on what age students should start to be learning to read and write. I must say that a part of me feels very sympathetic to the Steiner and Montessori ideas of leaving reading as late as possible, and I also feel with esl you are up against the double challenge of teaching the S to read (in a foreign alphabet) and having a lack of concrete vocab to attach the newly learnt words or letters too. I am not sure my school would take to kindly to me stopping teaching the S to read as this seems such a focus in Thailand in general but I would be interested to hear other people's views and experiences.

Phew sorry for the length of this but I just found a topic very close to my heart at the moment. Great site and loads of brilliant posts too!

x Kru P


Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:49 pm
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
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Location: Nagano, Japan
Post Re: Jolly Phonics / Alphabet names
dekdekteacher wrote:
Lastly what are peoples thoughts on what age students should start to be learning to read and write. I must say that a part of me feels very sympathetic to the Steiner and Montessori ideas of leaving reading as late as possible, and I also feel with esl you are up against the double challenge of teaching the S to read (in a foreign alphabet) and having a lack of concrete vocab to attach the newly learnt words or letters too. I am not sure my school would take to kindly to me stopping teaching the S to read as this seems such a focus in Thailand in general but I would be interested to hear other people's views and experiences.

Welcome to the forums!

I have started with some students as early as 5 with reading. I have introduced the alphabet (names and words associated with the letters) as early as 4. In my experience, I've found that it really is student dependant. Some children are ready to start reading and others need a little more time to mature. I've started a few boys too early and they didn't understand or like doing it, so they just shut down for that part of the class. I don't know if waiting longer would have made any difference but it seems like it would.

I agree with you that students need to know the language before they start reading it. So, here I'll teach for a year or two, without doing any reading. Then, we start with single words that they'll know. It doesn't take long before their reading catches up with and passes their speaking ability.

That was one of the reasons I started making my own phonics books. www.funfonix.com I needed something with simple vocabulary; words like 'hid', 'cop', and 'bud' just weren't working for me :)

Great to have you on the forums and to hear about your phonics work. I've also got phonics on the mind these days so let us know how things go.

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Tue Oct 23, 2007 9:04 am
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Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:33 am
Posts: 289
Location: Niigata
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Dekdek,

First, I don't think anyone here on this forum would think that your unearthing anything. Everybody on this site seems very nice and helpful.

Let's just step back a sec and look at this issue from a broader scale. Whenever people step outside the circle of normality and the regular flow of the system, they are always going to be the ones sticking out like a sore thumb. These people seem to be the ones defending their choices over and over again, and sometimes people crumble because of this. What I find humorous is the resistance to change based upon no concrete reasoning other than "that's how I learned." People often refer to language as being 'living'. Meaning, it constantly changes. Coupled with this, is the methods in which language is taught.

Phonics was invented in America, but the great thing about Phonics is that it's not country-specific but rather language-specific. Jolly Phonics just proves this fact, seeing that the program was created in the U.K. To give Phonics even more of an ethos, there has been a big push in the U.K.'s national curriculum towards Phonics since 2002 (I could be off a year or so).

In 2004, one primary school in England finished a 6-year study resulting in it showing that Phonics "substantially boosts boys' achievements". The following year, a school in Scotland finished up a 7-year study showing an enormous success with all children, "particularly boys and disadvantaged pupils". Phonics on the whole has proven successful time after time.

So, why are there still people who are against this method of reading? Because it is going against the fiber of historical education methods. So, your school teachers in Thailand don't agree with your teaching methods? What sort of evidence or studies have they done on the methodology of Phonics? Chance are...none. Phonics was created to give students in English speaking countries the tools they need to be able to read and learn on their own. The spin-off advantage to this system was that it gives a solid mnemonic foundation to ESL students learning English.

Phonics is still gaining popularity throughout the world, even in English speaking countries, so it doesn't surprise me there are still teachers out there who have never heard of it and are against it. People are always scared of the unknown; all it takes is a little enlightenment to change that.

Consider yourself lucky...a couple of us on this forum teach in Japan. Japan's English education system is extremely inflexible because the government has such tight control over the public schools and English textbooks. I believe it is because of this control that Phonics is non-existent in Japan. Instead, they have opted for the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), which in my opinion, is insane to learn unless you are studying more than one foreign language in school.

I think it is cool that you have carte blanche to teach what you think is best for your students. :) To put it simply, Phonics is the answer to learning to read, especially to students who DON't have steady and constant access to the English language.

My best 2 pieces of advice for you is:

1. KNOW THE CULTURE. Phonics was created and designed for English speaking countries, and can't be taught in the same methods that are taught back home. Like Mark eluded to in his recent post, trying to teach Phonics in the same methods that are taught back home is not going to work. You need to morph into the culture you are teaching in. Meaning, don't be afraid to change the original names of Phonics rules to make them more understandable to your students, and use examples that are cultural specific.

2. IT'S OKAY NOT TO KNOW. Noah Webster (the dictionary guy) could speak 25+ languages. He was one of the founders of Phonics. I think if he was alive today, he would say he knew a little about Phonics, but I don't think he would say he was an expert on teaching Phonics in an ESL environment. As far as I know, NOBODY is an acclaimed expert in teaching Phonics in an ESL environment so don't be afraid to admit you don't know everything.

We live in exciting times! We are first generation to have computers and Phonics in ESL classrooms! Let's live it up!

<falls off his soapbox...>

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Tue Oct 23, 2007 10:01 am
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Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:35 pm
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Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
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Don`t stop doing what you are doing. The sad thing is that the real benefit of the foundation you are giving your students won`t be seen for a while. If you are able to persist the results will change the mind of some (hopefully most) of your Thai teachers.

15 years ago, the first time I came to Japan to teach, I managed to convince an incredibly flexible teacher to adopt a Phonics programme with one class of first year Junior High School students. It took me a year to do so. The final piece of evidence was a friend`s child who I had tutored for six months, mainly phonics, who arrived in his class and could read better than most third year students. He assumed the child had been to English classes for a number of years. We taught a Phonics course for a term. At the end of the term the students didn`t do so well in `the test` compared to the other classes. This says more about testing in Japan than anything else. We then went back to the textbook in the second term. They flew through the book and at the end of the second term they were so far ahead of the other classes in `the test`. Other teachers asked why and to cut a long story short the school decided to adopt a phonics programme the next year. We also went back and did some phonics teaching to the other classes.
What I am trying to say is it can take a long time to convince people and change the way people see things and maybe adopt other ideas.
This time around my timetables have not allowed me to be consistently in a school to hammer the point but I hope that my teaching of phonics in elementary school will have a flow-on effect into Junior High School where English begins formal study. I only see students once or twice a month but I know most are learning the sounds and beginning to read simple words.


My own children used phonics to learn to read. In New Zealand there was a move away from using phonics for learning in the 80`s and early 90`s. This resulted in the need for a lot of reading recovery, especially boys, and a lowering of academic results and standards. I am glad to say that the use of phonics has returned. Most children in New Zealand don`t start reading till 5/6 years of age. there are some earlier and some later. So if you are expected to get students reading in a second language at the same age I believe it is a more difficult proposition, especially given that you wouldn`t be working on reading 5-7 days a week like in NZ.

Keep up the good work. Teach the teachers and don`t stop pushing the ideas.


Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:03 pm
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Joined: Wed Oct 31, 2007 3:02 pm
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Location: Kumamoto, Japan
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i think it actually depends on the age of the students and the emergency for them to learn english.

for adults i would teach the letter names first. because it comes in handy to spell or for things to be spelled to you.

for kids, espcially when they are young, i go for the sounds first. it demands some research on the teacher's part for him to get all the sounds (do not forget sh, ch, ea etc.). use words and picture cards. kids learn basic words easily, so then it becomes easier for them to break down the syllables in letters.


Wed Oct 31, 2007 3:34 pm
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