Aren't All Phonics Rules The Same?

Phonics rules have been standardized since the early 1900's with almost no change ...until now.

If you are a phonics fan you already know: reading rules are both revolutionary and flawed.

Q: The shortcoming in a word?

A: Accuracy. 

You may not know this: a huge study found a solution to this a year before I was born! That would be (ahem :~ about 1966)

Hanah and Hanah et al found that adding letter position to phonics rules improved accuracy by 75%

We took this study to heart. (You can read why I had to, further down the page: ) The Result is improved rules called English Decoder:

Standard rules have

  letter(s) + sounds

English Decoder has

   letter(s) + 1 sound + word or letter position


Look How This Changes Reading

using standard rule:

  y = first sound in yellow; I, E or A (capitals sound like their letter names)

How do you know which sound to use for these simple words?

by   baby     say  yes

cry  shady    pay  you

using English Decoder rules:

  y= I (sounds like the letter name) at the end of a 2 or 3 letter word

 my, by, try, cry, fly . . . are easy

  y  = first sound in yellow  when it is the first letter in a word

yes, you, yell, year . . . are read just as smoothly.

  y= at the end of a word with 5 or more letters

baby, shady, funny make sense too. It gets better!  Harder words work.

  y= I   in the ending "ply"

reply, comply . . . don't have to be confusion and tears just waiting to happen.

You get the idea.  The other "y" rules explain the rest of the words just as clearly. And they work 95% of the time.  Some words like "key" are exceptions. 

Important!  All together, you need fewer English Decoder rules than standard ones.  That is because improved rules cover what sounds letters do say rather than endlessly repeating sounds letters could say.

Improved Phonics Rules Change 3 Big Reading Realities

1. Study Findings Are Now Applied 

You already know that Hanah and Hanah et al found that adding  letter position  increased phonics predictability by 75% way back in the late 1960's.

It happened again. Just about the year 2000 Abbot looked at rules for spelling and listed letter position and companion letters (also called word position) as cues to improve accuracy.  No one built these wonderfully powerful facts into reading programs.

I did not know of these studies when along came our son who could not make heads or tales of inaccurate rules. I had been building my own phonics program for our family for years. We had great results. Now I had to do something big.

We noticed all kinds of patterns that could fix our son's problem and printed them up. Only then did I find all the studies that made the discovery years before. This confirmation gave me so much confidence : )

2. Ease of learning.  What could be easier than rules that connect 1 letter pattern to 1 sound?  This is what we want phonics to do in the first place. 

The idea of phonics is to learn a few dozen rules instead of tens of thousands of individual words.  When rules don't fit, words must be memorized.  Hundreds of words must be memorized with standard rules.  Only about a dozen need to be remembered for English Decoder.

When rules are inaccurate all kinds of clues that seem wildly out of place in a preschool book show up. Things like:

  • syllabication,
  • suffix and prefix and
  • etymology

are taught with standard phonics-based reading.  English Decoder simply does not need anything more complex than the number of letters in a word and what letters are nearby. 

3. Students can read anything.  Your child does not need to restrict themselves to words someone else has taught them if they have better rules to use.  They can learn new words! This is ground breaking.

I don't want to overstate this.  You still need a verbal vocabulary to recognize words. But you don't need someone to point to a word and say it before grasping it on your own.


So are all phonics rules the same?  They were. Not anymore : )


Read more in Basic Phonics Rules