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Phonics and your deaf child

Photo: Find out about developing phonics skills with deaf children

What is phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching reading and writing.

At its simplest, phonics is the relationship between the letter you see on the page and the sound (not the letter name) that it makes when you say it. For example, knowing that the letter ‘a’ will have the sound /a/ as in apple or ant.

All 26 letters in the English alphabet have their own sound. However, the English language has more sounds than letters in the alphabet so your child will also need to learn:

  • the 44 sounds in the English language that those letters make when they’re written in groups of two or more letters (for example, ‘sh’, ‘ou’, ‘ear’)

and the skills of:

  • how to say the sounds in the order they appear in the word and to put these sounds together (‘run’ or ‘blend’) to say the word. For example, the sounds /d/ then /o/ and then /g/ run or blend to make the word /dog/
  • how to break words down into sounds in order to write/spell words.

Why is learning phonics important?

Phonics is really important in helping children to understand, enjoy and learn from reading in its many different formats (for example, storybooks, textbooks, instruction manuals, tablets).

It will help your child to work out words they haven’t seen before when reading and to choose the right letters for the sounds in words when writing.

Will my child’s deafness make learning phonics difficult?

Your child will need support, but a hearing loss shouldn’t be a barrier to learning and developing literacy skills as well as other children.

Over the years, many teachers (including Teachers of the Deaf) have thought phonics, with its obvious emphasis on listening for and hearing sounds in words, inappropriate for deaf children. However, the earlier the detection of deafness (especially through the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme) and improved hearing technology means that many deaf children may be able to benefit from the teaching of phonics.

Our resource, Teaching Phonics to Deaf Children: Guidance for teachers explains in more detail how teaching staff can use simple techniques to adapt the way they teach phonics (such as adjusting some of the activities, to ensure your child can access the learning).

Tips from parents of deaf children

We asked some parents of deaf children if they had any tips on using phonics to develop their child’s reading and writing skills – and this is what they shared.

“I think the main thing is to read with your child and listen to and gently correct speech, without making the child feel they are ‘wrong’. I would get my son to read the phrase containing the mispronounced word back to me and I would then read it back to him. We also used phonics flash cards and got other siblings to play along.”

“Emphasise the phonics sounds in words during conversation so children are hearing them as often as possible.”

“Making a booklet which has each letter of the alphabet on a page with a picture corresponding to the letter e.g. apple, ball, cat etc. and up to three additional words on the page.”

Do you have any tips to share? Visit our Facebook page.