Which is a better method to teach children to read – phonics or sight reading (whole language)?
Phonics aims at teaching children the skills necessary to decode a word. Sight reading on the other hand promotes learning to read by recognition of words learned through memorization.
As far as the Malay language and any other orthographically consistent languages are concerned teaching by phonics is the most beneficial method. There is absolutely no need for sight reading.
As mentioned in one of my articles, every one of us is a sight reader. All of us recognize words as a whole when the words are familiar words. But how do we read unfamiliar words?
As far as English is concerned we need both phonics and sight reading to be fluent readers. Phonics will help us to decode unfamiliar phonetic words. Unfortunately, there are many words in the English language that are not phonetic and therefore we need to learn them as sight words.
As such, as to why people debate on which method to use when teaching children the English language is beyond me.
To teach reading without phonics reduces an alphabetic language to a pictorial language as in ancient times. Alphabets were invented to be able to make reading simple and make out unfamiliar words.
English does not have a one-to-one sound symbol relationship that would make reading much easier. As such we cannot do away with sight reading.
Phonetic rules helps students sound out many words but many words still need to be memorized as sight words because they don't follow any simple rules. E.g. cough, bough and dough.
Adult readers seldom have to sound a new word out because we have memorized most words by sight. However, good phonetic skills are helpful for beginning readers who still need to "sound out" words.
So, for learning to read in the English language use both phonics and sight reading as I have introduced in my lessons right from lesson one. A competent reader actually uses both methods to read on a daily basis. He sight reads most of the familiar words and uses phonics to read unfamiliar words.
Read the following sentence and ask yourself which method you used.
Mr.Ramasamy wanted to buy some coconolanum and chandirum for his wife.
You did not recognize three of the words but you read them using phonics. Ramasamy is an Indian name whilst the words coconolanum and chandirum do not exist, I coined them to prove a point.
However, if you read the 3 unfamiliar words a few times (and assuming they had a meaning) they would become familiar to you and you will read them as sight words just like you have read most of the words in this article.
Similarly, the proficient reader has phonic strategies to decode words, and has the reading experience to recognize most of the words by sight.
So, to summarise, use both phonics and sight words. Use phonics to learn words that can be read phonetically. Use sight words to read common but irregular words like with, there and all other sight words many of which you can refer to in my lessons.
For lesson 27 click here: