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Whole Language vs. Phonics: What You Should Know

Reading broadens mind

You know your baby is not only able to learn the spoken language but also to learn reading. Does teaching your child to read at a very young age can only work if your child’s IQ is above average?

Indeed, it is the other way round. You can teach most babies to read regardless whether gifted or not. It is even proven, that children who started reading simultaneously when they start speaking will affect their intelligence. Firstly, because “reading broadens mind” of course, but also because they get to know this form of language earlier than their peers. So to say they are the “native readers” compared to their future non-early reading colleagues.

Reading is fun for your baby

Teaching your baby to read facilitates the learning process to the child more than waiting until they go to school. Experts say that it is much harder for children to start reading at five or six than starting as babies. So why shouldn’t one profit out of this opportunity? On top of that reading is fun for your baby and he or she will love to learn it.

The onus is on you, parents, to teach your children

The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick ll started an experiment to find out which language would originally be spoken by humans. Therefore, he isolated baby orphans, whose nurses were only allowed to feed them but not to talk to them in any way. Surprisingly, the babies did not start speaking Latin or Arabic or whatever the human language might be. In fact, all the babies died. This experiment shows that speaking to your children and showing devotion is essential for their survival. So it is the parent who transfers the language their children speak to their babies. You will not harm your baby by teaching them to read yet, it will intensify your relationship to each other. Do not forget that the term “native language” is also called “mother tongue”, so it is the language you transfer to your juniors.

Why has it not been common so far to each an infant to read? It is because written language has been only used by the educated élite until the mid-20th century. So to say, it is a ‘new’ language to communicate. Due to that, one could assume that in the future teaching your babies to read is not a question anymore.

You are responsible for your child’s education. However, the child is learning all by himself by imitating his environment and you are just the mediator. So the task of parents is to organize their children’s day so that reading naturally integrated. The child will soon start to read as it will start to speak. There are more than enough examples, who prove that this is possible, videos of babies reading on the internet. Of course, it requires training to hit the target and make your child read. Remember, no one is born a master! But it will also be a funny, new hobby for your child.

Another evidence that shows that it is easier to learn reading for babies than it is for pupils are kids, who grew up bilingual. These children do not translate one language into another. They just speak without thinking about the meaning of one certain word in their other language. So a “native reader” does not need to think about the word he just read because he will get the gist without. In fact, for adults, who try to learn a new language it is not that easy as to bilingual-grown up children. They will try to translate and to understand the new language in their own mother tongue.

More than enough evidence and advantages to really start making your child read playfully.


How does it work?

First of all, you need to differentiate between two aspects of teaching to read. Learning the languages or focusing on phonics. The American education system has reformed several times on reading teaching methods in the past centuries. In the 18th century, the education transferred from home tuition to schools. In that time the curriculum focused on the sound of the language and letters joined to words. Whereas the 20th century brought focusing on the word language and reading strategies to schools.


Whole language and its methods

What is whole language? It is a literacy method which focuses on the strategy and meaning of the words. You show your child a word and connect it to an object, a meaning. This is one way how a child learns a language naturally. By remembering words which emphasized and used repeatedly. To train this you also have to emphasize the word and repeat it regularly.

Flash card method

For this one can refer to the flash card method. As the name flash explains, the cards presented to the babies at an enormous speed. This is how a child learns to read quickly, for sure quicker than most of the adults. This way of transferring information to the infants’ brain is effortless and takes place unconsciously. It is proven that the sudden change of cards attracts the child’s attention. It is much more effective than showing the cards slowly. Flash cards structure the learning process and give the parents a clear idea which words need to be repeated. For this method, It is best to start with words, which are familiar to the child. Words that are part of their everyday life, including the parents

It is important, to highlight the words by using a large font and a noticeable color like red. But you also have to tell your infant the words very often. Make sure that your voice is pleasant. From time to time you can reduce the size of the font. And, as soon as your baby becomes comfortable with reading, change the color to black. Take care of your child’s reaction. If the smaller font seems inconvenient, then go back to the large one.  Also group your words into different categories, because when it comes to teaching, organizing is a priority. To start, use single words before stepping further to let the child read complete phrases. In order to make sure that the child memorizes the words, one could also place the flash cards on the items. Later on, after practicing with real equipment, the testing of memorization can take place.

This one possible method to make your child learn to read step by step: Depending on your child’s reading process, you can finally switch to books sooner or later.


The problem with whole language word reading:

There are several cases which cannot be covered by just teaching the whole language. For example, it is impossible to read unknown, new words. Or just terminology, which will appear sooner or later in a student’s reading career. Furthermore, if one does not focus on the words one can’t spell correctly. And whole language words readers tend to have a restricted language code. They do not learn new words through reading. Not only will this be striking to have a high-level conversation in one’s mother tongue. It will be a greater problem on learning languages. Learning French without having focused on phonics is unthinkable. In French, it is highly important to learn to decode a word to read it well. You pronounce every single letter differently depending on the other letters connected with it.

Multi-sensory method

As the name already tells, one should learn by using all senses. So one has to focus on hearing, seeing and speaking. What differs this method from the flash card method is that you use other visuals. Power points, DVDs, songs and so on. Visualizing is great for training the right half of the brain, too. Unlike the left half, this part of the brain prefers pictures to words. What you do is showing slide shows and little films to your children, which connect the words to pictures.


But as we see it is not possible to teach a child to read without knowing the alphabet. You could also focus on the sound of the letters and decode words first. This is the philosophy of phonics. Differing letters use from the context. Mostly before learning a language in school one starts with the basics, the alphabet. Actually, this is again the proof that one always needs to connect new with old information. Because one transfers the sounds of the new language to the old one a child does not have to start reading by focusing on phonics. Still, as soon as he or she is old enough you should start teaching phonics.  I started introducing phonics to my son when he was two.

Native reading method

This teaching method involves playing with letters. For the start, you can sing alphabet songs. Later on, the infant will enjoy learning to read through playing with letters. Whether it is an alphabet soup or just making letters out of dough, your child will love it. There are various possibilities to integrate letters to your child’s reading process.

All in all, the whole language word philosophy helps the child to read faster. Whereas phonics is important for the language code of the infant. Teaching your baby in a fun way at this early age can even prevent dyslexia. Because your child will get a feeling for language. Most important is to connect these two methods. Children always love colored book to textbooks without any visuals. Nevertheless, parents must help children to memorize the words as well as phonics to help them decode unknown words.


If your child seems unhappy during a lesson, postpone it or even stop it. Nothing is priority besides your baby’s reaction. Teaching your child at these very young ages will not affect it in a negative way. So why should one not profit out of this situation? It is a possibility to ease the school life to your child. On top of that, no one is as capable of learning as babies are. Furthermore, you will strengthen your relationship with your kids. Teaching them also means spending time together. A great way to show devotion.

There had been a debate on the better approach to teaching a child to read, whole language or phonics.  The whole language is much more reading the word as a whole out loud. It requires children to learn how to read by seeing the words and memorizing them, not by sound.  Photonics is the opposite; it teaches children how to sound out words.  There are a few words that will not follow the rules of phonics and will have learned by sight.  But for the most part photonics will keep a child from guessing a word if they do not know it, instead, they will be able to figure it out by sounding out each letter.

What is the base of baby reading, whole reading or phonics? Whole language reading is widely used in teaching babies to read. Baby reading is when you begin to teach your baby to read as early as a few weeks old.  How do you do this? By reading to them.  They will learn stories and nursery rhymes by hearing them repeatedly.  Baby reading, in turn, helps children learn the sounds of the words.  Many say that baby reading is possible at as young as 6 months and helps children progress in reading quicker.  I started teaching my son to read at 9 months old through whole language approach.  But, I did lots of reading to him every day.

If you don’t choose to try baby reading that is okay, but early reading is a good thing to practice. Once your child has become comfortable using basic words, consider doing some early reading with them.  You can even simultaneously begin to teach phonics.  Have them sound out words, this will show them the basics that will get them started on their way to being able to read novels.

Whichever method you choose to use and at whatever age you choose to start teaching your children to read will be up to you. However, keep in mind that reading is important and a skill you will want your children to be proficient at!

For me, these two approaches work hand in hand.  There’s no right or wrong method.  My son benefited on these two approaches in reading.