English is, for lack of a better word, a crazy language that has combined many other languages with the end result being that there are no rules that can explain how the spelling works. You might say that English is tough because it was not thoroughly thought through.
So how do we teach this crazy language? Until now, educators relied almost exclusively on a system of reading instruction known as phonics to teach reading. Phonics teaches the sounding out of words. But there is a major problem with phonics – the vast majority of words in English cannot be sounded out.
Consider the following sentence:
The “ea” letter combination in this sentence can be pronounced 13 different ways!
In English, fewer than 1 in 5 words can be sounded out and there are 1,768 ways of spelling forty phonemes (a basic sound unit in the language) – which is why English is one of the only languages that requires a pronunciation guide. (In almost all other languages, pronunciation guides are not needed because the spelling adequately represents the pronunciation.) This naturally leads one to ask: How can you teach a person to “sound out” a language that requires a pronunciation guide?
In order to overcome the problems inherent in sounding out, phonics asks people to memorize almost 600 spelling and pronunciation rules, such as the silent e rule, the double vowel rule, the consonant combination rule and on and on. Remembering nearly 600 rules is impossible for a person - or even an adult for that matter. What's worse is that the rules themselves are riddled with exceptions. For better or worse, in English, irregularity is the rule. Put simply, if phonics worked as advertised it would be spelled "foniks.”
(If you want to see a partial list of the 1768 ways Dr. Julius Nyikos found to spell 40 sounds, click here: http://www.readingkingdom.com/downloads/Dr-Nyikos-1768-spellings-40-phonemes.pdf)