Teaching Your Child Phonics

Child looking surprised at a book.

This guide was made to help you teach your child basic phonics. Phonics is the fundamental skill of learning the sounds associated with the letters of the alphabet and their combinations. For many young learners, this will be their first step towards learning English. Phonics (and the associated phonemics) will become the basis of your child’s ability to read, write, and speak English. Early successes in these skills will help children become engaged English learners for the rest of their lives.

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Parents, the Most Important Teachers

It’s not just my own experiences that prove this, but research does too. Children who have parents that are actively engaged in their child’s learning show better results than their classmates that don’t. We here at The Learner’s Nook want to give every parent the opportunity to help their child succeed. Oftentimes, parents of second language learners find it difficult to get involved in their child’s education, but doing so can be crucial. We want to give you all the tools and support you need to help your child achieve success in their English studies and their overall education career.

I am not a native English speaker, can I teach my child phonics?

Yes. Even parents with only a basic understanding of English can teach their children phonics. Depending on your level and accent though, you may need help as any mistakes you make could be passed on to your child. I have worked with many children, and without fail, the best indicator of success in a child’s English was their parents’ willingness to review and practice with them. This includes parents who only had a basic English level, but through hard work, lots of questions, and video recordings, they helped their child succeed. All you will need is some phonics flashcards and handy resources like the ones found on this website.

What do I need to know about phonics?

Phonics teaches people to associate letters with sounds. Think of phonics as the foundation of written English: each letter and sound pairing will support your child’s ability to read and write. As they advance in phonics, they will learn to take these individual letters and blend them to make new sounds, with the end goal of using their knowledge to be able to decode new words they encounter when they are learning how to read. 

 Phonics will also help your child learn phonemic awareness: an understanding of the individual sounds used in a language and how they can be used to make words.  Think of phonemics as the oral partner to the more reading focused phonics. This skill will help your child learn how to speak fluent English. 

Phonics and phonemics are especially important for ESL learners as they have less exposure to English in their home and school environment. These fundamental skills will help your child have a jump start in their English education.

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Shouldn’t I hire a tutor?

Ideally, yes. But having lived in Asia and worked as a private tutor and teacher, I know that native speakers can be hard to find and expensive to hire. In China, I was being paid $100 an hour, and I know not everyone has that kind of money to pay for a tutor. As well, I have seen more than one example of scams where parents are tricked into paying for non-native English speakers to teach their kids. As I have said, yes tutors are important, but a dedicated parent using the right tools is more important than a once-a-week tutor. 

As a parent, you are your child’s most important teacher. Use the resources we have here and teach your kids to be better English speakers. As they grow into intermediate and advanced English, it may be necessary to look into more specialized English training, but for now, there is no one better than you. Use native English speakers for their most important roles, as people to answer questions you have, to assess your child’s level, and to offer advice on where to go next with your child’s English. If an in-person tutor is the best fit for you, or your child already has a native English teacher, that is wonderful. If not, consider us as an easy and affordable way to help you help your child.

How do I start?

The first step is to determine what level of English your child already has. If you don’t know where to start, we have self-assessment tests and one-on-one meetings for our members that can help you determine where your child needs to start. If they are a complete beginner, then you are in the right place. Please continue reading to learn how to use this basic phonics guide to teach your child.

How to Use this Guide

While using this guide, sometimes we will need to differentiate between the name of a letter and the sound it makes. To do this, we will indicate the name of a letter by using quotation marks (for example, “A”), while for the sound we will use forward slashes like this /a/. So “A” refers to the letter A, and /a/ refers to the short a sound “ah”.

In this guide, we have grouped letters by similarities in their sounds. For example, the five vowels are in a group as they have similar mouth positions. Consonants are mostly paired in voiced/unvoiced pairings (letters with the same mouth movements, but one letter uses vibrating vocal cords to make a sound and the other does not). By grouping letters like this, you and your child can more easily see the differences in those tricky, similar sounds that so many ESL students have problems with.

While teaching your child, make sure to emphasize the difference between the name of the letter and the sound it makes. We also find it is easiest to then associate the sound to a known word. For example, when teaching your child, have them chant A, A, A, /a/, /a/, /a/, apple. If you are uncertain of your own pronunciation, we have included videos that children can watch to see the mouth movements and hear the sounds made by a native speaker.

I would suggest pairing these lessons and videos with our flashcards to review the sounds once they are learned. The most important thing for your child’s phonics success is your dedication to practicing every day. If you are looking for useful games or activities to practice phonics, we have some ideas for you here.

When you are all done, we have made some self-assessment tests for our members. Use these to make sure your child has mastered the phonics involved in the basic alphabet so that they can move on to the next level of their phonics journey. These tests are designed to be short and easy for parents to administer. For a test of their pronunciation, we would be happy to administer a test over a ten-minute meeting to make sure your child is sounding like a native English speaker.

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Useful Links for Your Phonics Journey

For some parents, this is probably a lot to take in. If you have any questions, we are available for consultations. If there are any words you are having difficulties with in our guide, we have made a glossary explaining the more technical grammar terms.

If you are unfamiliar with the parts of the mouth, we have made a handy guide to help you with that too. In our guide and instructions, we have tried to use simple language, sometimes using more easily understandable terms instead of their more scientific names. It will be important to understand all of the terms to make sure you can help your child make each sound correctly. It may be hard to judge though, so don’t be scared of reaching out to have us take a look and a listen!

Finally, once you have taught your children these sounds, the next step is practice, practice, practice. To help you out, we have listed some of our favorite phonics games. These games were written for people learning basic phonics, but like any great game, it is very easy to scale it up to make things more challenging if that is what your child needs.

If you are ready to start your child’s English journey, we would recommend you begin with our first post on the short English vowels. You can also see all of the available phonics posts and lesson that we have at our phonics home page.

Good Luck,

Syd and Josh

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