Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A last 2¢ about phonics

Imagine trying to learn a new language — Greek, say, in any of its varieties. It would be impossible to figure out words and their pronunciation without knowing the sounds that the letters make.

Now imagine being four or five or six and learning to read in your own first language. It would be impossible to figure out words and their pronunciation without knowing the sounds that the letters make.

I think that’s the clearest case that can be made for the importance of phonics.

[I thought of this brief bit on my own before realizing that there’s something like it in the podcast Sold a Story, about college students who are taught to read a few words in Korean with or without learning the Korean alphabet. The students who hadn’t learned the alphabet were, of course, lost when looking at unfamiliar words.]

comments: 6

Anonymous said...

well, my face is red! most likely i learned to read the phonics way. somehow i always thought phonics was not the way to go and of course, that is what happens when you don't investigate something. mea culpa!!!

i even emailed my brother to ask him if he remembered how we learned to read but he doesn't remember. he did write that we had to learn to read as we didn't have a tv!

i've taken classes in 3 languages and remember the alphabet for all 3 but don't see how you could learn a language if you didn't know the sounds. even my "reading german fluently" book starts with ta-da "pronounciation".


Michael Leddy said...

You may have been one of the lucky kids who just caught on without phonics.

There’s a story somewhere from someone who’s translated Homer about starting on Greek and realizing, exhilarated, that you could read anything aloud once you knew the phonics. Before you even knew what the words said, you could luxuriate in the sound. Imagine how exciting to be able to do something like that in the language you already know. If I can find the story, I’ll post it.

J D Lowe said...

Speaking of letter and word sounds. Today we dropped by a sub sandwich place on our way home. There was a sign on the glass panel covering the sub toppings explaining that lettuce might not be available due to the ongoing lettuce shortage. The message finished with this sentence: Thank you for your patients.

Michael Leddy said...

Sigh. That reminds me of a line in a letter in Ulysses: “my patience are exhausted.”

Sean Crawford said...

As for Greek, and Latin too, as best I recall one of the joys of learning was that you didn't have to learn exceptions, rather, every syllable was pronounced every time. Or as Penelope T. noted, (From memory) "When someone calls me Pen-e-lope I know they didn't get a classic education."

Michael Leddy said...

Or — didn’t read the Odyssey in translation in a garden-variety humanities class. : )

I’m still trying to figure out where I read about the translator thrilled about learning Greek pronunciation.