Phonetics is one important part of language learning and it contributes to language literacy through involving learners understanding the relationship between letter form and speech sound. It’s made evident that younger learners are shown the ability to learn a foreign language in many researches and thereby phonetics should be taught systematically as part of a balanced and integrated English language program. It’s found that the impact of phonetics instruction on development of early childhood education could be reflected and denoted in four parts or areas of language learning, i.e. pronunciation development of early childhood education, spelling development of early childhood education, vocabulary development of early childhood education and reading development of early childhood education. It’s hoped that this research provides a useful reference for future phonetics instruction practice among younger English language students.

1.1 Background of study
More than a century of debate has occurred over whether English phonetics should or should not be used in teaching beginning reading due to the complexity of written English [1]. Since the turn of the 20th century, phonetics has been widely used in primary education and in teaching literacy throughout the world [1]. Thus, what benefits may accrue from learning phonetics in the first few years of life? Should phonic awareness and instruction be integrated in English language learning program among pre-school learner? In this thesis, we try to offer advice on why to teach phonetics to early childhood education and figure out the impact of phonetics instruction on early childhood education’ development in English language learning. This paper is a summary of this research work, which hopefully provides a useful reference for future phonetics instruction practice among young language students.

Two central and key concepts constitute the idea of phonetics: grapheme and phoneme. Grapheme is a written symbol that is used to represent speech, while phoneme is one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language. Specifically speaking, grapheme and phoneme represent respectively letters or groups of letters and their pronunciations. The core content of phonetics, in somewhat simpler terms, is the relationship between word form and sound, or say, letter and speech sound. According to Allen, phonetics refers to the set of relationships between sounds and how they can be represented by letters of the alphabet in print; that is, the sound-symbol relationships or grapho-phonetics [2]. Yoop who held the same viewpoint of Allen, pointed that phonetics is view as a method which stresses the letter-sound correspondences connection in alphabetic orthographies [3]. As the example given by Groff, phonetics is information about how the speech sounds in oral language (e.g., /b/-/ ǎ /-/t/) are represented by letters of alphabet (e.g., bat) [4]. As to phonetics instruction, Hsu viewed that that phonetics instruction referred to all the teaching and approaches used to present or introduce the letter-sound correspondence relationship [5]. To sum up, all above mentioned definitions focus on a body of knowledge about letters and sounds, especially the letter-sound correspondence connection.

The phonetics is easily confused with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which is widely used among English learners. The IPA was devised by the International Phonetic Association as a standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language. It’s an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin alphabet. That is, it was devised to represent the sounds heard when words are pronounced. The general principle of the IPA is to provide one letter for each distinctive sound (speech segment). The abstractness of the symbols causes a learning burden to the students. And teaching two sets of similar symbols during an early stage of language learning will cause confusion and produce a sense of frustration for students [6]. Furthermore, students who rely on the IPA symbols will fail to develop the decoding process and feel helpless in sounding out new or unfamiliar words when there is no phonetic symbols transcription [6]. As Curtis stated, learners don’t have to memorize vocabulary and spell the words, because they have been given a tool that can be used over and over again while reading and writing [7]. The phonetics principles can be wildly applied to help children with spelling and reading, which is much better than rote memorization and guesswork[6]. To sum up, compared with the IPA symbols, phonetics seems to have much more advantages. In practice, IPA can be related to phonetics through helping crystallized some confusing word pronunciation and remind learners to read words more accurately.

Phonetics exerts considerable influence on contemporary society and the most of the society begin to pay attention to phonetics and actively participate in the educational reform. In generally terms, there are several different methods for teaching phonetics: synthetic phonetics, analytic phonetics and analogy phonetics. Many researchers are favor of the synthetic phonetics instruction, which uses a part-to-whole approach to learn letter-sound (grapheme-phoneme) relationships in a clearly defined incremental sequence, and it’s found that synthetic phonetics instruction can bring about more productive reading, spelling and great phonemic awareness than analytic phonetics instruction[8]. Overall, phonetics is being preceded in a great many of English-speaking countries, such as Canada, Australia, UK, Singapore later on. Children in those English-speaking countries usually started to receive phonetics training when they were in the elementary school. And it is the dominant method to teach and learn the pronunciation and words[9]. Owing to the education reform of North Nigeria, phonetics method as a new model of second language teaching has become the prevailing teaching method since the 1990s[9]. It’s found that researchers and educators discovered phonetics instruction as an English teaching instruction not only for young native speakers but also for EFL learners. In light of a large body of research on the effectiveness of phonetics in EFL learning, phonetics instruction was largely embraced by EFL learners in Asian countries such as China.

Phonetics, or the method of breaking words down into sounds, was first introduced to reading instruction in the United States in the 1790s (Morrow & Tracey, 1997). Phonetics is a way of teaching reading that stresses the acquisition of letter-sound correspondences and their use in reading and spelling (National Reading Panel, 2000).

In the mid - 1800s, reading instruction took a turn with the introduction of the word method, in which children learned to read and memorize entire words rather than analyze words according to their sound (Morrow & Tracey, 1997). Educational historian Nila Smith stated, “Since the introduction of the method, the field of reading has been embroiled in a controversy surrounding the superiority of either a phonetic approach or a whole-word approach to early reading instruction” (As cited in Morrow & Tracey, 1997, p. 645).

In the late 1990s, the National Research Council brought together reading researchers and educators that favored both the word method and the phonetics method to examine which method of instruction should be supported by public policy. In the end, the group endorsed the value of teaching both letter-sound relationships and a range of whole language strategies, including the extensive use of good literature, a focus on comprehension and the use of developmental spelling for beginning writers (Zemelman, Daniels & Bizar, 1999).

Currently in Phonetics, there are three different approaches. The first form of instruction is explicit instruction. “Explicit instruction is the systematic sequential presentation of phonetics skills using isolated, direct instruction strategies” (Morrow & Tracey, 1997, p. 646).

Often in explicit instruction, teachers use worksheets to assess a student’s phonetic knowledge. The second form of instruction is contextual instruction. Contextual instruction includes learning within meaningful or functional contexts (Morrow & Tracey, 1997). In contextual instruction, teachers use activities like a morning message, a storybook, language chart or a text in which an element of phonetics is pointed out. The last approach to Phonetics is the combined approach. The combined approach is Phonetics in which both explicit and contextual instructions are used (Morrow & Tracey, 1997).

1.2 Problem Statement
It is unknown the impact phonetics and phonemic awareness instruction in the early childhood education, will have on the students’ ability to read on grade level by the end of first grade.

Reading is a vital part of life and a focus of elementary school teaching. The use of phonetics to aid in teaching children to read is an important element of successful reading programs, however there are no established requirements for elementary school teachers in how they should teach phonetics. Incorporating phonetics into reading programs is a successful way to teach phonetics; however, there are still teachers that teach phonetics and reading distinctly and therefore their students are not as successful (Ellis, Hatcher & Hulme, 1994). Furthermore, the addition of phonetics into reading programs has shown to be more effective in teaching students to decode words (Lapp & Flood, 1997). It is significant to start students in Phonetics in elementary school because students who have Phonetics early have a higher reading ability than those students who do not have a strong base in their early education (Ehri, Nunes, Stahl & Willows, 2001).

According to Saracho (2017), from the beginning of formal schooling in Nigeria, disagreement has existed on ways to teach reading (p. 302). For many years, researchers have debated the best approach to teaching students to read. Some advocate for Phonetics where children learned to sound out each letter in a word to identify the word, while others advocated for the whole word method where students memorized the words then looked at the words to recognize and read them in text. Each process of teaching reading has its success and failures with students. Ring, Barefoot, Avrit, Brown, & Black (2012) wrote, “Students with reading difficulty typically struggle to read fluently despite the inclusion of fluency in their core classroom instruction” (p. 101).

Much research has been conducted to determine the effect of early literacy on future reading success. According to the National Early Literacy Panel (2008), the acquisition of emergent literacy skills during the preschool years is predictive of children’s reading and writing abilities. Consequently, the teacher’s role in intentionally providing literacy-rich experiences and environments for students is critical to reading success. Rupley, Blair, & Nichols (2009), reported the “explicit/direct instruction has been shown to be efficacious in learning and teaching the major components of the reading process: phonemic awareness, phonetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension” (p.126). Reading is a puzzle containing many pieces and according to Salinger (2003), “Students must have understandings, skills, and strategies in these areas because each area represents a piece of what might be called the cognitive puzzle” (p. 76).

According to Saracho (2017), many students find that their language and culture at home vary from the one that is used by the teacher, the school, and the schoolbooks. (p. 302). As a result of this difference, these children may encounter functional language difficulties, such as differences in using language to communicate for various purposes. Additionally, these language differences create gaps that teachers must work to eliminate.

This research was conducted at a small Title I school within a rural county located on Lagos state’s Eastern Shore. Students at this school typically come to school with gaps in their literacy exposure from the home environment. For the past three years, a mere 26% of students entering Kindergarten in the school of study have demonstrated readiness, as evidenced by the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA). Additionally, 47% of students fell in the “approaching readiness” category, while 32% of students were in the “emerging readiness” category (chart 1, School 1). On this same assessment, Language and Literacy was the second- lowest category, with Mathematics falling slightly lower for the same three-year period (chart 2). This data was the impetus that prompted district leadership to initiate universal early childhood education in the Lagos state of the study.

1.3 Research Questions
1) What effect does Phonetics in the childhood education classroom have on students’ ability to read on grade level by the end of first grade; and

2) What effect does phonemic awareness instruction in the childhood education classroom have on students’ ability to read on grade level by the end of the first grade?

1.4 Significance of study
Student literacy is a crucial factor in determining success in school. The teaching of reading and literacy is an essential part of schooling. Thus, schools and districts must find effective and efficient methods for achieving this task, as evidenced by higher reading achievement scores. Jones (2006) repeated the need for school personnel to select research-based programs and practices as outlined by congressional mandate. Reading is a complex activity that requires students to use many skills at one time. Skills such as decoding and segmenting and blending letters and sounds are used to identify and read whole words. Because starting kindergarten students on the path toward long-term success with reading is an important kindergarten goal, childhood education teachers have the task of lighting the way of this literary journey. Childhood education teachers must establish literary routines for these students – especially those who may not have had literary exposure. According to Lawhon and Cobb (2002), children’s literary abilities grow when there are opportunities to see, share, act, sing, classify, observe, make decisions, develop sequencing skills, recognize and understand relationships, read and tell stories, interact, talk, listen, and play (p. 113).

According to Lonigan, Burgess, and Anthony (2000), there is a strong continuity between the skills with which children enter school and their later academic performance. Those children who enter school with limited reading-related skills are at high risk of qualifying for special education services (p. 596). It is not known the effect that phonetics and phonemic awareness instruction in the childhood education classroom has on students’ ability to read on level by the end of first grade. This study will investigate and compare the end of year reading levels of first- grade students who received phonetics and phonemic awareness instruction in the childhood education class to the end of year reading levels of first-grade students who did not receive this instruction. It is a strong possibility that students who are poor readers by the end of first grade will continue to struggle with reading during the elementary years.

Literacy growth and development is a life-long process that begins before birth. Lawhon and Cobb (2002) contend that from the time a human voice is heard, the abilities for listening, and later cooing, babbling, and the production of other vocal sounds are developing (p. 114).

Lonigan et al. (2002) further contends whereas more traditional approaches to the study of reading often take as their starting point children’s entry into the formal school environment, an emergent literacy approach conceptualizes the acquisition of literacy as a developmental continuum with its origins early in the life of a child, rather than as an all-or-none phenomenon that begins when children start school (p.596).

1.5 Limitations
A limitation identifies potential weakness of the study over which the researcher has no control (Jarvis, 2016). A limitation of this study is that it contained a small sample of two groups of students from one rural elementary school in a Lagos state school district. Another limitation is this study collected ex-post facto data over a relatively short time-frame due to time constraints.

It would have been helpful to do some teacher interviews from both groups, as well as interviews with administrators, reading coaches, and curriculum supervisors to gain a better perspective of the phenomena at this rural elementary school. These items were limitations because they could have either supported or refuted the findings that resulted from this study (Marshall & Rossman, 1999).

1.6 Delimitations of Study
A delimitation addresses how a study will be narrowed in scope and is the place to explain the things that were not done and why they were not (Marshall & Rossman, 1999). The ex-post facto data collection was from the one rural elementary school on the Eastern Shore of Lagos state after the unbarred reading scores were released and put on an Excel spreadsheet.

A review of the literature was done to determine the best practice for analyzing the data gathered through this research design. The data analysis consisted of descriptive statistics along with t-tests to calculate the results. The researcher went to great lengths to protect the ex-post facto data by having any identifiable names, numbers or ID’s removed before receiving the data, storing the data on a password protected computer and thumb drive kept in a locked room in the researcher’s absence. Triangulation, using more than one method to collect data, was not performed but would have expanded this research study and added more credibility.

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