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So…what is phonics anyway?

The term ‘phonics’ is somewhat of a hot potato these days, especially  since the UK government controversially promoted it as the best way to boost reading standards in 2011.

The new phonics test, which is now underway in primary schools, asks 6 year olds to identify both real and made-up words, something which has divided opinion among teachers, experts in the field and politicians.

The idea is that this will be used as a measure for whether or not a child requires early intervention with their reading.

In many ways, the matter of whether or not Michael Gove is a deep sea monster has taken precedence over the essential question here, that being – what exactly is phonics?In essence, phonics is a method of developing a learner’s phonemic awareness.

Phonemes are the discrete sound elements in a given language, and it is these units of sound which make up words. In English, there are 44 phonemes in total.

By developing a child’s ability to hear, identify and manipulate these phonemes, they will in turn be able to understand the relationship between the sounds and the spellings that are used to create them (known as graphemes).

Being able to make this connection between phonemes and graphemes is known as decoding.

In theory, this sounds very straightforward and obvious. However, for the past 300 years the literacy world has been embroiled in a bloody battle over the question of its success as a method of teaching children how to read. Amidst the wreckage of pitchforks and pencil sharpenings one thing is clear: phonics is not a universal solution.

The reason that phonics does not work for a lot of children is that it tries to teach relationships between letter patterns within words, or graphemes, and the sounds, or phonemes, in the words. But as we all know, there is huge irregularity in those relationships in English. For instance, the letters /ough/ can represent 12 different sounds.

What’s more, it is boring learning rules at the best of times. Especially if you are 6 years old and all you want to do is go outside and play. Learning 70 rules and twice as many exceptions is no fun for anyone-in fact it is dull and unmemorable.

At Easyread, we have found that the right solution to this problem is Guided Phonetic Reading, a method that involves teaching reading as a skill.

Phonics is clearly a good starting point in principle, but with Guided Phonetic Reading, we can ensure that the phonemic awareness is an engaging and enjoyable process.

As we know, practice is the mother of all skills. So if a child practices the process of decoding and blending words routinely every day, the brain forms a mapping of letter patterns (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes), without the child even being aware of it.

So if phonics seems to be a bit of a question mark for your child, check out the free trial lesson on our website, which shows you how Guided Phonetic Reading works when it is put into action:

And where does that leave us with Mr Gove and his gang of cronies in Westminster?

Well, given that presently 1 in 5 children are leaving primary school unable to read and write effectively, not even the government’s harshest critics can be in any doubt that efforts towards early intervention, whatever they may be, are a step in the right direction.

For more information on this and all phonics related questions, check out our website at

Laura O’Sullivan works as a Program Coach for Oxford Learning Solutions, creators of the Easyread System. Easyread helps struggling children improve their reading through short, daily online lessons for dyslexia.