Phonics versus "whole language"
The "big debate" resolved

For years the debate has raged around the English-speaking world in particular: is it best to learn English by "phonics" or "whole language"?
The world's biggest-selling book in 1999, The Learning Revolution, says the answer is simple: combine them both.

Co-authors Gordon Dryden and Dr. Jeannette Vos say approximately half the 550,000 words in English are "phonetic" spelled approximately as they sound and half are not.

They say most of the "short vowels" in English are "phonetic" with words such as hat, cat, bat, sat and hit, bit and fit.

But those English words developed from Latin, Spanish and French are often not phonetic.

"Learn only 'phonetics'," say Dryden and Vos, "and you will be able to spell set, bet, get and met. You will also quickly learn prefixes and suffic es such as un, de, dis, re, ing and ed. But you will not be able to read Once upon a time (phonetically: Wunce upon a time.) And you will not be able to read the words from one to ten (phonetically pronounced wun, tu, three, for, faiv, six, seven, ait, nain, ten). You won't even be able to read phonetically!"

They say the long "e" in English, for instance, can be written 12 different ways in English-English: On the quay (spelled 'key' in American-English) we could see one of these people seize the key to the green machine and give it to the chief officer who threw it into the sea.

Both authors praise the late Dr. Seuss for producing books that show parents show young children how phonic and non-phonic English words can rhyme (From The Cat In The Hat: This is no time for fun. There is work to be done. Or from The Lorax: I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.)

They also outline games that parents can use to teach English to young children, using "phonic fun" and "whole word" games to teach nouns, verbs and adverbs.


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