Introduction to Phonics

When it comes to learning a second language, we find it very difficult to teach our children as Hindi and English are both inherently very different languages both spoken wise and logically as well. It is because of this difference that a lot of experimentation in teaching and learning keeps on happening. Phonics is one such attempt of teaching English as a language to children. The major highlight of this approach is its focus on the sounds of each alphabets rather than the method in our age where we were introduced to letter names and were expected to start making words out of it directly from there.


Now you would think that history of phonics would be very simple, somebody might have come up with this approach, shared it and it got it’s place. Well, it’s more interesting than this. Phonics was a part of a major debates back in the 1920’s where it was put against the “Whole word learning” approach. It was a huge debate with the whole educational community split into two where they started connecting each other’s motives to political agendas and hence making this a ground for political debates as well. You can read the details here .


Imagine building a wall and putting all the bricks together, it would be more of a pile with no meaning or use. It’s the same with letters and sounds, just throwing in a couple of words together doesn’t make a meaningful word, you need to put them in a way they are readable and convey a meaning. This is where phonics comes to our rescue. With the knowledge of the sounds of alphabet, it is easier for us to make a word. For eg: If a child who is aware of phonics is asked to spell “run”, it would not be difficult for the child break the word into sounds, connect sounds to the alphabets and spell the word while if a child doesn’t know the sounds, it will be a little difficult. The whole purpose of phonics is to equip the child with the skills to form most of the words independent of rote memorization rather be able to spell words they have never even read in their lives.

Elements of Phonics:

There are 2 elements of phonics:

  • Phoneme:  A phoneme is the smallest sound unit in a language that is capable of conveying a distinct meaning. There are approximately 44 sounds. Phonemes are customarily written between slashes, thus /b/ and /p/. For eg:  When we say sun, the phonemes used are /s/ /u/ /n/
  • Grapheme: A grapheme is a written symbol (a single letter or a sequence of letters) that represents a sound (phoneme). Some examples are as ai, sh, igh, tch etc. So when children say the sound /s/ this is a phoneme, but when they write the letter ‘s’ this is a grapheme.
  • Phonogram: A phonogram is a grapheme which represents a phoneme or combination of phonemes. For example, “igh” is an English-language phonogram that represents the hard “I” sound in “high”.

Difference between Phonemic Awareness and Phonics:

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to recognise phonemes or graphemes (sounds) in spoken words and so it is an oral skill and not a written skill.

Phonics is the relationship between sounds and spellings. (phonemes and graphemes)

To know more, click here.

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