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Phonics is a fundamental aspect of the English language. By starting with the basics and learning letter sounds first, children can build a foundation for the language that will make for a smooth transition between levels when learning to decode, read, write and speak new words.

But at what key stage in your child’s development should they start learning phonics, and how do we go about it here at Jan & Elly? Let’s talk about it!

An introduction to phonics

There are lots of different ways to learn a new language, but among the most effective — especially for children in their early years — is phonics.

For an alphabetic language, such as English, phonics helps children form connections between the sounds of the language when spoken, and the letters or groups of letters of the language when written, to help them understand those relationships.

For example, we can teach children the sounds of individual letters, such as A, P, T and S and from there, they can start to build up words. In this case, we can form the words:

  • Tap
  • Sat
  • Past
  • Pat
  • Sap

And as children become more comfortable with letter sounds, we start to introduce letter combinations, such as “op” or “tch,” and more advanced sound combinations and words, such as “th” or “sh,” and more complex words.

The benefits of learning phonics

English is one of the official languages in Singapore and it is spoken in nearly half of all households — and that number is rising. Learning English can help position your child to be successful in school, pass the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and become eligible for the secondary school of their choice.

By learning phonics, your child will:

  • Develop the ability to decode new words as they read.
  • Improve their reading skill and comprehension.
  • Enhance their vocabulary.
  • Become a better reader and writer.

As phonics is often one of the first things a student will learn when picking up English, learning the basics will put them in a great position to succeed in the PSLE, in secondary school and in their future careers.

Learning phonics at an early age

When children learn phonics in their early years, it puts them in a better position to decode words sooner, with greater accuracy and efficiency. And, the earlier they start, the sooner they’ll be able to read, write, speak and spell in English with confidence, and the more time they’ll have to prepare for the PSLE.

The importance of phonics for a young child

In most cases, children are best positioned for success when phonics is taught in their kindergarten or first grade years. That’s because it’s easier for them to pick up language rules when they’re young and impressionable.

By using sound to teach phonics, it offers a fun and unambiguous approach to learning English that will not only help them speak the language correctly, but read and write it fluently, too.

The rules of phonics

There are many interesting and particular rules in the English language that are important for children to learn in order to decode, read, write and speak fluently. Among those rules are:

  • Vowels in syllables: In every syllable of every word in English, there’s at least one vowel sound. 
  • Long and short vowels: Depending on where they are within a word, vowels can make different sounds. A long vowel sounds like the name of the letter. So, if the letter A is making a long vowel sound as it does in the word “fate” it reads as if you’re saying the name of the letter A. If a vowel doesn’t sound like any of the vowel letters, it’s a short vowel sound. For example, in the word “apple” the A makes an “ah” sound.
  • Soft and hard letters: For example, when the letter c is in front of the letters i, y or e in a word, it makes a soft sound similar to the sound of the letter s, like in the word “city”. However, if c is in front of any other letter, it makes a hard sound similar to the sound of the letter k, like in the word “car”.
  • Silent e: When a word has a single vowel, a consonant and the letter e at the end of the word, the e is silent. Think about the word “fate” from before — the e is silent.
  • Plurals: In most cases, a word is made plural by adding an s to the end, however, when a word ends with s, x, z, sh, or ch, you add an es. For example, adding an s to “shoe” makes it plural: shoes. However, to make the word “sandwich” plural, you would add an es: sandwiches.

The best approach to teaching phonics

Before enrolling your child at the school, we believe it’s important to be aware of the methods we use here at Jan & Elly in our phonics instruction. Below is a comparison of two popular phonics teaching methods, systematic and analytic, with an explanation of each.

Systematic phonics vs. analytic phonics

At Jan & Elly, we take what’s known as the systematic approach to teaching phonics. Even so, there are a handful of different ways that a phonics lesson can be taught, and it’s important to know the difference in order to properly support your child at home when they’re learning English.

Here is a breakdown of the two popular methods for teaching phonics, and what they entail:

  • Systematic phonics instruction (our approach): With this teaching method, teachers and instructors follow a sequential and defined set of phonics elements that focus on sound-symbol relationships. When children are learning, there’s a planned scope and sequence of progression that builds from basic letter sounds to more complex word structures.
  • Analytic phonics: In contrast, this approach starts at the word level as opposed to the sounds level like it does with the systematic approach. Analytic phonics does not teach blending.

While analytical is a very popular method for phonics instruction, we find more value in the systematic approach. Our phonics programme starts at ages 4 and 5, so starting with sounds only makes sense for children when they‘re starting out, and has proven critical in their development.

Interested in our phonics programmes or other English programmes? Book your child’s phonics assessment or enrol in a trial class to experience our approach to phonics first hand. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

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