The Phonological Approach

The Phonological Approach


Pronunciation is one of the biggest difficulties students have when learning a foreign language. Even students with good vocabulary and grammar can have trouble making themselves understood due to their poor pronunciation. However, an excellent accent is not impossible. If a child learns with an advanced phonics methodology, such as the I Can Read System, he or she will learn how to pronounce English words like a native speaker. To understand why this is possible, we must first understand why students have difficulty in the first place.

Why do students develop an incorrect accent?

The main reason for these difficulties is the effect of our mother tongue on how we pronounce words and understand grammar. When a child learns to speak his first language, he begins with the ‘goo-goo, ga-ga’ baby speak. While unintelligible to our ears, the child is learning how to form the sounds of his own language. He then begins to learn the names of familiar objects and people. After building his vocabulary and perfecting his pronunciation, he uses an unconscious trial-and-error method to learn the grammar or his mother tongue. By the age of 4, the child is fully functional in his native language.

After this development, parents often send their children to study a foreign language, usually English. The child is presented with new words to learn and say. However, his pronunciation knowledge is limited to his own language. As such, he tries to say the new words using the sounds he knows – the sounds of his native language. However, sounds differ hugely between languages, so without learning how to make the sounds of the foreign language correctly, a child will always try to say new words with the pronunciation of his mother tongue, which will usually be incorrect.

How can students learn to speak correctly?

The only way to learn to speak with correct pronunciation is for the child to re-train his mouth to create the sounds of the new language. English has 44 sounds, and he must learn to recognise and correctly create every sound, and learn how they come together to form words. Once he has learned to do this, he will be able to pronounce words with a clarity and accuracy otherwise unachievable. This method essentially repeats the same process he used when learning his native language, but in a guided systematic way, with a native English teacher helping him to learn how to make the sounds correctly.

The English alphabet only has 26 letters, so if a child only learns the sounds those letters make, their correct pronunciation will be limited to those 26 sounds. The teacher should therefore avoid linking sounds to letters until the student can recognise and produce all 44 sounds. Then the student can learn how those sounds are represented by individual letters or groups of letters.

Once the student can recognise the sounds, he can then learn to orally blend and segment those sounds. For example, with the word ‘fish’, he can recognise that the word has three sounds: f – i – sh. He can transfer this skill once he understands the letter-sound relationship, and start spelling and reading based on the sounds of the word.  With this skill, a student can confidently and accurately read or spell unknown words like ‘glint’ or ‘frenetic’ purely through his awareness of English sound. There is no need to learn the spelling of lists of words by rote. Next, he can then learn how other sounds are represented through combinations of consonants or vowels (for example, ‘th’, ‘ay’ and ‘ow’). Then he will be confidently able to read any text, and pronounce any word with a very high degree of accuracy.

Phonics is not just about learning the sounds letters make, or learning to read. With a correctly applied phonics system, such as the I Can Read System, a student can learn to speak English with native-like pronunciation, to listen and understand spoken English with ease, and later to read, write and pronounce any new word or text correctly. Educational research shows that using this system can deliver a success in language learning that traditional teaching methods simply cannot achieve. If you feel that English is important for your child’s future, you should enrol him or her in an English centre which uses an advanced phonics system, and give your child the best head start in life by learning to speak English like a native speaker.