The other day I had the opportunity to participate in an online training to discuss the role phonics plays in the ESL classroom. Following are a few of my thoughts regarding the implications of phonics for ESL students learning to read and speak English:
1) How many times do our ESL students ask, “Teacher, how do you say this word?”
We tell our students how to say the word, but we don’t often know why we say it that way. We can help our ESL students develop autonomy by teaching them strategies to help them pronounce words on their own. This approach better prepares them for “real-life” experiences that occur outside the classroom (where their teacher isn't available).
2) Incorporating phonics instruction in the ESL classroom provides focused training on the sounds of the English language.
Such training provides an opportunity to analyze and dissect the English language in new ways. With this focused and conscious practice, pronunciation improves.
3) When ESL students learn the meaning of the word along with the sound of the word simultaneously, it “sticks” better.
Students are able to remember the word more effectively when they associate the meaning and the sound with the written word.
4) Who couldn't use a little help with their spelling?
Phonics instruction helps ESL students' improve their spelling since encoding (putting sounds together) is an integral part of explicit phonics instruction.
5) ESL students’ confidence increases when they are empowered with skills that help them successfully read and pronounce and spell English independently.
I saw this first hand. One of my students who I had taught in a previous semester approached me one day in the hallway of the school and was very excited to report that he could decode and pronounce vocabulary better than his friend who was in a higher-level English class who had not had phonics training. His confidence empowered him. To witness this first-hand helps me realize that although this was simply anecdotal feedback, the effects of teaching phonics to ESL students is not only effective, but powerful.
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