Friday, June 27, 2008

The Effects of Teaching Phonics to ESL Students

I participated in an online presentation this morning for an adult education facility where adult non-readers and ESL students are served. Because of my background in ESL teaching and literacy, I was asked to participate in a portion of the presentation to specifically discuss implications of phonics for ESL students learning to read and speak English. Following are a few of the thoughts I shared:

1) When ESL students learn the meaning of the word along with the sound of the word simultaneously, it “sticks” better. Students are able to remember the word more effectively when they associate the meaning and the sound with the written word.
2) How many times do our ESL students ask, “Teacher, how do you say this word?” We tell our students how to say the word, but we don’t often know why we say it that way. We need to help our students develop autonomy by teaching them strategies to learn how to pronounce words on their own. This approach better prepares them for “real-world” experiences.
3) An extra bonus of incorporating phonics instruction in ESL students' classrooms is that their pronunciation improves. I incorporate phonics training in both my ESL reading classes and my ESL speaking classes since phonics incorporates both skills. In addition, since phonics helps with spelling, phonics instruction has a place in an ESL writing class as well.
4) ESL students’ confidence increases when they are empowered with skills that help them successfully read and pronounce and spell English independently.

One of my students who I had taught in a previous semester approached me one day in the hallway of the school and was very excited to report that he could decode and pronounce vocabulary better than his friend who was in a higher-level English class who had not had phonics training. His confidence empowered him. To witness this first-hand helps me realize that although this was simply anecdotal feedback, the effects of teaching phonics to ESL students is not only effective, but powerful.

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