Published 7th December 2018


You might not think that teaching reading is part of an English as a Foreign Language teacher’s job description, but when you think about it, it must be. There are the teachers who are teaching illiterate learners and so really are teaching them how to read. But then there are the teachers who are teaching their learners how to read in English. This blog discusses the EFL approach to teaching reading using phonics.

Of course teaching reading in the EFL classroom is different to teaching reading in the first language classroom. We tend to do things differently in the EFL classroom anyway and now new research has shown that the way we teach reading in the EFL classroom is the way it should be done.

The EFL approach to teaching reading

In the EFL classroom, we utilise phonics to teach reading. Phonics is a method of teaching reading by correlating sounds with letters.

Now science supports this method. Studies have shown that learners need to focus on letter-sound correspondences. Learners learn to identify letters and letter combinations and the sounds they make.  It is in contrast to the whole-language approach which advocates that learners learn words by sight. Learners must also use context and situational cues to take guesses on words they are not familiar with.

While these practices may help learners when it comes to reading, they should not form the basis of learning to read. Rather teachers should help learners focus on bottom-up processes through phonics instructions to help them build the foundations of reading.

Phonics is especially important in the EFL classroom to introduce learners to the sounds of English. English is not a phonetic language, like Spanish for example. It is not possible to read most English words by sounding out their letters. Phonics will thus help our students learn how to say the different letter combinations which make English so tricky.

How to use phonics to teach reading in the EFL classroom

  • Introduce the different letter sounds. Remember that letter sounds are not the same as letter names. The letter A, for example, has the sound /a/ as in /cat/ not as in /day/. Sounds are not taught alphabetically but in a specific order which facilitates the early spelling of words.
  • Demonstrate the pronunciation of the sounds. This is done through repetition, gestures and movements.
  • Show examples of the letter sounds in stories or songs. Break down the stories or songs into their sentences and focus clearly on the particular sounds.
  • Practice how to form the letter sounds. Again this is done through gestures and movements.
  • Move on to reading short words made up of familiar letter sounds.
  • Focus on common tricky words with irregular spellings.

Teaching reading is often a necessary part of the EFL curriculum. Using phonics can make reading in English easy for your learners, as well as making teaching reading easier for the teacher!