My Literacy

Adult Phonics Learn to Read Program


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There are only two ways to learn to read: "sight reading", and "phonics".

"Sight reading" is not really a system. You simply look at a word, over and over, until you can force it into your long term memory.

Words are learned, one by one, by some visual "cue"; the shape of the words, or the letters, or some other visual key. As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult to learn thousands and thousands of words this way.

How many words do we need?

Studies show, that sight-reading results in a lifetime reading vocabulary of between 3000 and 6000 words. However, the average workplace requires 12,000 to 20,000 words. A sight reader has great problems in a job that requires reading.

Difference between Speech and Reading Vocabulary

To understand this, first we must understand the difference between "speech vocabulary" and "reading vocabulary".

Speech vocabulary is the total number of words we use in our everyday speaking, but also, the words we understand when other people speak. We listen to radio, watch television, we talk to people and have conversations - at the shops, on the phone, all sorts of situations.

So, your "speech vocabulary" can be quite large, and this is an advantage.

Reading Vocabulary is completely different - these are the words that you can correctly identify and understand when you read text.

Studies show that many people can have a good speaking vocabulary, but limited reading vocabulary. A "sight-reading" person can learn the high-recurrence, short words, but have great difficulty learning the longer, less frequent words.

There are three key problems with sight-reading

1. There is no means of understanding a word you have not seen before. If you do not recognise the words, you must ask someone "what does this mean?".

Or, you simply guess the meaning. This is called "contextual guessing" and is shown to be wrong 70% of the time, particularly if it is surrounded by other words you do not understand.

2. Because a sight-reading person depends on other people to explain the meaning of new words, their vocabulary development is extremely slow. They need to find people who know the words.

3. The average memory can hold approximately 5000 "sight reading" words. The longer the word, the more difficult it becomes. Even simple words such as "horse" and "house" become extremely difficult, because their shape is so similar.

Phonics - the alternative approach.

Phonics works an entirely different way. With Phonics, there is a very consistent connection between the letters and the sounds they create.

When you know the sounds of the letters, you can "sound out" the word - either aloud or mentally - and match it to a word that you have heard before. So, you don't have to guess, or ask other people

Compared to sight reading, Phonics is very simple. There are only 48 sound letter-letter relationships. Once these are learnt, everything can be worked out when needed. Using phonics, a person can easily sound out and 'decode' words they cannot read. This is the big breakthrough.

After a while, all the new words become fluent, and a person becomes a fast reader.