Learn to read. Phonics for kids
Learn to Read | Phonics for Kids | The Alphabet from A – Z
Prior to the analysis of the English phonological system, we should introduce the concept of phonological competence as an important component of the linguistic competence described in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL, 2001). Broadly speaking, phonological competence refers to the knowledge of, and skill in the perception and production of sounds and prosodic features such as stress, rhythm and intonation.
In more practical terms and taking these concepts to the primary FL classroom, our students should be able to understand basic phonological aspects and produce above the level of what we consider understandable. According to Celce-Murcia and Goodwin (1996), there is a threshold level of pronunciation in English such that if a given non-native speaker’s pronunciation falls below this level, he or she will not be able to communicate orally, no matter how good his or her control of English grammar and vocabulary might be. Thus, the goal of teaching pronunciation to our students is not to make them sound like native speakers of English.
Let us now move on to an analysis of the English phonological system.
Reading and writing are considered indispensable tools for the development of Key Competences. Its importance is acknowledged in the Curriculum Act RD 126/14 and D. (reference to regional curriculum) for our Autonomous Community, where the content blocks have been designed according to the different FL abilities described in the CEFRL, being block 3 devoted to comprehension of written texts and block 4 concerned with production of written texts: expression and interaction. Moreover, these content blocks comprise several sub-components which are worth noting: comprehension strategies, related to planning; use of general and communicative competences in order to carry out a meaningful task; sociocultural and sociolinguistic aspects, communicative functions like requests, instructions, offering help, permission, amongst others; use of appropriate syntactic structures and high frequency lexis in relation to the topic being covered.
In accordance, the reading-writing process constitutes a fundamental goal to whom the FL area must contribute within the scope of a communicative perspective. The obvious relation amongst the two principal skills, reading and writing, requires bearing in mind that they shall usually appear integrated in meaningful and enjoyable tasks, as we shall see later on.
Nevertheless, before moving on to more practical aspects of the written foreign language, it is of utmost importance to analyse the most relevant theoretical features of these fundamental skills for the development of the FL learners´ competences.
Reading is a complex psycholinguistic process which involves a wide diversity of procedures or sub-skills, such as identification and interpretation of the graphic signs, the understanding of their meanings, and finally a reflection and personal interpretation of these meanings.
T. Linse (2005) defines reading as a set of skills that involves making sense and deriving meaning from the printed word. In order to read, learners must be able to decode the printed words and also comprehend what they read. She adds that for second-language learners there are three different elements which impact reading: the child´s background knowledge, the child´s linguistic knowledge of the target language, and the strategies or techniques that the child uses to tackle the text.
To read English words, students have to match sounds (phonemes) with letters (graphemes). In early stages, reading starts by recognizing individual words (word recognition). Then, students move on to recognizing the meaning of words across connected text; that is, they decode. However, this process is not simple, particularly for Spanish learners, due to the fact that English has approximately 40 sounds but uses only 26 symbols, imposing a greater demand for speakers of one-to-one sound-letter correspondence language, like Spanish.
This complexity implies that FL teachers may consider the following principles for teaching reading and writing, adapted from Nation (2009):
• Meaning-focused input: Provide students with a range of reading purposes.
• Meaning-focused output: Relate reading and writing to other linguistic skills.
• Language-focused learning: Include sub-skills like phonics, spelling or vocabulary learning.
• Fluency development: Include skimming or scanning techniques.
Writing is a combination of process and product (Sokolic, 2003) which refers to the act of gathering ideas and working with them until they are presented in a manner that is comprehensible to readers.
Learning to write in the foreign language is a hard nut to crack, especially for students whose mother correspondence between sound and spelling clearly differs from the FL. However, learning to write in English is a parallel process to reading.
In the early stages of learning to write in a FL, copying provides opportunities to practise handwriting, consolidate their understanding, develop an awareness of and confidence. It is a good idea to use copying in a way which encourages pupils thinking; this means using crosswords or anagrams, and matching, sequencing or classifying activities.
An important principle at all levels is that children should not be asked to write something that they cannot say in English. Similarly, teachers need be aware of a variety of ways of supporting their writing.
It is helpful to provide plenty of practice in the meaning and spelling of basic words so their use is familiar and gradually becomes more automatic. Children enjoy personal writing, so it would be a good idea to personalize writing tasks, where possible. The more pressing need is to ensure that writing is contextualized and, where possible, related to a real-life situation.
Nevertheless, the development of the reading-writing process entails the application of appropriate techniques to understand and produce written text, as we shall analyse in the next points.