Synthetic Phonics for Literacy

English is not the easiest alphabet language to learn because there are a number of irregularities. This is because the speling comes from at least five different spelling systems (old Anglo-Saxon, French, Latin, Greek, Norse). 

There is however a way to teach how to both read and write English that will create success within a short period of time. There is a logic, and structure that children are able to follow. It uses progressions. It's title is 'synthetic phonics'.

Although most Fiji schools claim to use a phonics approach, it turns out that this is not really true, it's often several approaches together and is sometimes called phonics’ or ‘eclectic phonics’.  The result is for instance in the USA between 20-40% (!!!!!) are reading below the grade level. 

Synthetic phonics in contrast has a 99% success rate and essentially does NOT recognise dyslexia as a medical condition but as a description. It means 'difficulty in reading' but this does not mean that a person cannot (or is incapable) of reading well.

Here are some interesting facts that a synthetic phonics uncovers and which most reading programmes do not acknowledge:

  • The English language requires about 42-44 (depends on who is counting) to pronounce all the words in the English language. Since we only have 26 letters we have to double some of those letters in order to make all the sounds. Think of -ch- as in 'church', or -sh- as in 'shout'.
  • Most of us think there are five vowels in the English language, but there are actually nineteen (19)! Traditional reading programmes talk about 'short a' sounds and 'long a' sounds. In reality they are two different vowels. Think of 'a' as in 'cat' and then 'ay' as in 'say'. Here are some more vowel sounds that you might not have thought of: -ee- as in the word 'seem'; -ie- as in 'time'; -oe- as in 'tone'; -ue- as in 'few'; -oi- as in 'boil'; and -ou- as in 'out'.
  • The ‘alphabet’ is actually the names of the symbols (or letters) rather than the actual sound that they (normally) represent. Take the letter ‘A’, which when children chant out their ‘ABC’ is actually sounded as -ae- (as in 'say'), rather than -a- as in ‘cat’. However, it is the latter (-a- as in ‘cat’), that this the most common sound for this symbol. We want our children to learn the most frequent way to sound out a symbol which is the most important. So we do not actually teach them to 'chant' the 'ABC' as this is teaching them the names of the symbols, not which sound they (normally) represent. However, our children will of course eventually learn the names of the letters, as this happens quite naturally just with everyday usage.

Further information

You can find more information about synthetic phonics that we follow from: .

Two excellent resource books that we’ve used to understand the science of learning to read (& write) are: Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Method for Teaching Your Child to Read, by Carmen McGuinness & Geoffrey McGuinness; and Why Our Children Can't Read, and What We Can Do about it: A Scientific Revolution in Reading, by Diane McGuiness.

Our own training has come from abroad from a company called ‘Phonics Ireland’. We’ve also blogged about this too, here and here.

Ministry of Education registration number (if you're interested) is SF: 8239.          Contact Us