If you are a parent, a preschool teacher, a kindergarten teacher, or a primary school teacher but do not yet know all the secrets of "phonics," then this guide might be useful to you. Nowadays, and it's kind of a revolution, more and more schools are finally taking into consideration the latest scientific research in learning to read. And teaching phonics is at the heart of this approach. But what is phonics, exactly?

Phonics is a way of teaching reading by matching sounds (phonemes) with symbols (graphemes) in an alphabet or writing system. Phonics associates spoken words (phonological awareness) with written language. It is the basis for decoding text, aka "sounding out words." This is what happens when we look at a printed word and use the sounds of each letter to figure out what the word is and then what it means. In reverse, encoding is the process of matching letters to the sounds in a spoken word to write it down.

Multiple areas of our brain work to put together written symbols and spoken sounds for us to be able to read and write. Building pathways between these areas in our brain through learning and practice is a process called "orthographic mapping." Once a word's letters, sounds, pronunciation, and meaning are "mapped" in our brains, then we can read and write it. Phonics is key in this complex process, and it's knowledge we don't automatically have from birth and must be acquired instead.

Phonics is especially important in the early stages of reading and writing, as we learn sounds, letters, and symbols. However, it remains important as our reading skills improve because we need to understand more advanced spelling patterns (such as vowel patterns).

The "alphabetic principle" - the knowledge that written letters are related to sounds and that, in a certain order, one can spell sounds into words - is also a pillar of phonics instruction. Indeed, advances in the science of reading show us more than ever that explicit and systematic phonics instruction is king - or queen.

Picture: A young child reading out loud (ChildUp & DALL-E - 2022)