The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 55

arise from phonics instruction for ELLs and many of the components of phonics instruction need to be modified to meet the unique needs of ELL students. Reading instruction should be combined with intensive development of the oral language needed to understand the text (Irujo, 2016). Teachers should also be aware of the type of alphabet system a student uses in their first language. If it is a non-Roman or non-alphabetic such as Arabic or Chinese, or non- alphabetic such as Hindi or Sanskrit, environmental exposure to a different writing system can negatively affect the ease with which they learn to recognize the letters of the English alphabet (Irujo, 2016).

“When the learner’s first language does not use the Latin alphabet, there can be problems created by writing English words in their native alphabet. For example, in Korean, there are no consonant blends. So, when an English word with blends is written in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet), an uh sound is added between the two consonants. (It is also often added after a final consonant.) So, the word brown has three syllables when written in Hangeul and is pronounced buh-ra-oon. When two languages share an alphabet, language learners can have difficulty assigning a new sound to a familiar letter. Sometimes this can result in over-corrections such as a German speaker pronouncing /v/ as /w/” ( Irujo, 2016).

In the article “Five Phonics Problems With Teaching ESL, 2012” the author outlines five important points to keep in mind when teaching phonics to ELL students:

1. There are sounds which do not exist in the student’s first language. For example, the Korean alphabet has no equivalent to the letters f,v, and

2. The student may not be able to hear a given sound. For example with minimal pairs such as man and men, students may actually hear it as a completely different sound which does not occur in their language. A listen and repeat method or listen and circle/write may help when working with minimal pairs.

3. The student can hear a sound but cannot say it. For example, the /l/ sound is difficult to speak as an isolated sound much less faster in speech.

4. Students think they are making a sound correctly. (This can be a result of the previous three issues combined.

5. Differences in alphabets.

Most ELLs will need extra time to master phonics. The need for extra practice to learn to hear and produce the sounds of English and to learn the meanings of the words used in phonics instruction, to learn the multiple combinations of letters that make the same sound, and to learn many more sight words than English speakers need, additional time for phonics instruction should be built into reading programs for ELLs (Irujo, 2016).

Teaching phonics in the context of meaningful text, while using hands on supports is important when helping ELLs learn to read. Remembering to give them extra time, while keeping in mind the many issues that may trip them up such as a differing alphabet system is also helpful. Most of all patience, and understanding go a long way with these students! “Teachers must pay attention to the meanings of the words used to teach phonics skills. Teaching students to decode words they don’t know only reinforces the idea that “reading” is pronouncing sounds out loud rather than creating meaning (Irujo, 2016).”


Five Phonics Problems with Teaching ESL (2012, August 31). Retrieved from http://

Irujo, S. (2016, March 21). What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Learners? Reading Rockets. Retrieved from

Robertson, K. (2016, March 21). Reading 101 for English Language Learners. Colorin Colorado. Retrieved from

Marlow Barton holds a Bachelor degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Language and Literature and a Master’s in TEXOL. She has taught English in Sopron, Hungary. She has taught in the Fox and Bayless School Districts and has been an ESOL Specialist for the Northwest R-1 District in Missouri. Currently she is an Instructional Specialist for the MELL program in St. Louis.