Saturday, January 31, 2004


Amritas makes the case for phonics as opposed to whole-language learning. I'm a product of phonics, as are many in my age group. Whole-language makes sense for certain languages like Chinese, where you don't have much choice but to use something like a whole-language approach, but it makes little sense when you're dealing with languages that have alphabets or syllabaries.

The problem with whole-language is analogous to the problem with memorizing Chinese characters: if you encounter a totally unfamiliar word (or Chinese character), you're screwed. Especially at the beginning levels of learning, where a student is encountering nothing but unfamiliar words, this approach makes very little sense. For Chinese language (and, by extension, Chinese culture), rote learning is a virtue-- a utilitarian virtue. This isn't necessarily the case in "alphabet cultures."

Phonics all the way. HOO-AH!

[NB: This is a long but fascinating article. Highly recommended. BTW, Miyake says that even Chinese characters are phonetically accessible. I can see his point, I suppose, but I also know I've encountered characters that have completely stumped me, and those had to be memorized, no ifs, ands, or buts.]


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