Why Phonics is Important For Adults

portrait of young female student at school classroom

It is common practice for elementary teachers to go over phonics in the early grade levels (PK-1st grade). Little children have an inherent ability to absorb the phonetic structure of (any) language. Noam Chomsky attributes this to the L.A.D or Language Acquisition Device. It is widely believed by the teen years this L.A.D. begins to dissipate and people generally lose their abilities to acquire the essentials of a new language. This is believed by many to be due to the fact that by the young adult years, the mind has acquired what it needs to survive socially, culturally and otherwise. In contrast, it is also believed if people continue to learn new languages throughout their youth, the L.A.D. remains strong and people have been known to learn many new languages throughout their adult life.

There have been a slew of studies to support the existence of the L.A.D. and its attributes, so it is difficult to argue the “use or lose it” tendency inherent with it. This is important to keep in mind when considering the difficulties adults encounter when learning a new language, especially the English language. English is an especially difficult language to learn because of its “Frankenstein” composition. English is comprised of several world languages (Old English, Latin, Germanic, Danish, Norse, French, Greek, to name some), and many of their original rules traveled with them into English. This is quite evident when someone is trying to understand the many pronunciations of “ough” in different English vocabulary words, for example. The English language is filled with such examples. Although these complexities seem arbitrary at times, they really exist as a culmination of old pronunciation rules (and syntax) and a creole effect, meshing several languages in parts and morphing with trending acceptances to the rules. If this seems confusing to the native English speaker, imagine the confusion to non-native speakers and people new to the language. The one thing that can tie everything together is establishing English at the phonetic level. Having a strong phonemic awareness is tied to literacy, as well as listening and speaking skills. Before tackling the daunting, complex rules of the English language, ELLs should first establish a strong phonetic foundation.

The National Institute for Literacy published a report in an effort to “strengthen literacy across the lifespan” authorized by the U.S. Congress under two laws: the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The report’s section on “Alphabetics” (Chapter 4) is at the heart of what the I Want To Learn English textbook was designed to do with adult ELLs. The  Phonemic Awareness Training and Phonics Instruction chapter gives a comprehensive synopsis of the complexities of teaching phonics to adult learners (click here to read the report). Many of the highlighted issues in this report are primarily what IWTLE addresses in the strategies and methods employed throughout the textbook. Instructors and administrators are encouraged to review this report. When the issues in the report are compared to what the student textbook covers, it will become apparent this textbook was tailored to meet the phonemic awareness needs of adult English Language Learners struggling with literacy and overall communications skills. With grant funded programs becoming more competitive and the needs for adult English learners to acquire the language more efficiently in order to apply their acquisitions at the workplace, the need for excellent language learning tools grows. “I Want To Learn English” takes all of these factors into consideration and works to resolve the fundamental needs of ESL students, which in turn will contribute to the improvement of communication in the workforce and make adult ESL (and high school) programs become more productive.