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Phonics is the teaching of how words and letters sound. When teaching English language learners, it is important to take note that phonics is just a teaching method and it should not be the only method used. When used in an incorrect manner, the use of phonics can actually mislead the learner in terms of pronunciation and ultimately, reading skills. Some pointers to be considered when teaching phonics for English language learners are given below.
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Mastery of the Alphabet and Sounds of the Letters are Prerequisites
Before a student is able to learn the English language using phonics, he should already have been able to master the English alphabetas well as the different sounds that come with each letter. Let the student realize that the vowel may have either short or long sounds. As for consonants, let the student familiarize himself with the sound of each consonant and let him further understand that the sounds begin to differ when consonant blends and digraphs are formed. An example would be the different sounds of c as in “car,” c as in “center” and c as in “church.”
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There are Different Ways of Pronouncing the Same Letter in Different Languages
This factor usually serves as an impediment when teaching English, especially when it is taught as a second language. Therefore, the teacher should teach the student how proper pronunciation is done by going through these different aspects: voicing, aspiration and mouth position.
Voicing refers to sounds which are made when the throat vibrates. An example would be the hard /g/ sound in the word “girl” as compared to the /k/ sound in the word "cat." Let the students touch their throats so they feel it vibrate as they go through these different sounds.
Aspiration would refer to the air that comes out when different consonants are pronounced. An example would be the hardness of the /b/ sound as compared to the softer /p/ sound. Have the students get a thin piece of paper and let them pronounce these different letters while holding the paper in front of their mouths so they notice the difference in the amount of air produced when pronouncing these letters.
Mouth position can be observed by letting the students hold a mirror in front of them when they practice pronouncing these letters. Demonstrate to them the different mouth positions created when pronouncing these letters. (1)
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Single Letter Differences
Have the students read pairs of words which differ in only one specific letter in order to help them distinguish the different sounds. Examples would be the differences in the words “cat” and “cot” or the pair “pray” and “play.” (2)
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Set the Rules
As much as the letters in the English alphabet have different sounds, rules have been set in order to understand when to use a given sound. It would be a great help to the students if the different rules of phonetics are given to them in order to facilitate their study of the language. Examples of these rules would be as follows:
1. Vowels in the middle of one-syllable words beginning and ending in a consonant usually take the short sound, e.g., cat, bag, star, pot, milk.
2. Vowels in one-syllable words ending in a silent “e” usually take the long sound, e.g. lake, mile, pole.
3. The letters “c” and “g” usually take the soft sound when they are followed by the letters “e,” “i” or “y,” e.g., gent, cent, city, gem.
There are several other rules involving phonetics when it comes to the English language and being familiar with them will definitely make teaching the language, as well as learning it, much easier and less confusing.
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(1) Colorado State University: Teaching Pronunciation, http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/esl/pronunciation.cfm
(2) A to Z Phonics: Phonics Rules and Secret Codes, http://www.atozphonics.com/phonics-rules.html