Why sounding-out is a recipe for failure

By Jonathan Blank, CEO, Reading Kingdom

Everyone agrees that reading is the gateway to knowledge and lifelong learning. And the statistics bear this out. Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school than those who do read well.

But despite significant monetary investment and the efforts of thousands of well-meaning legislators, educators and parents, reading outcomes are very poor. For as long as the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been administered, approximately 2 out of 3 students nationwide fail to achieve proficiency in reading. Here are the results going back to 1992:


Why are students doing so badly?

While there are many factors involved, at the core, the problem comes down to a faulty curriculum.

Though there are many “different” reading curricula available, the reality is that there is essentially no difference between them. They are all phonics-based and rely exclusively on “sounding-out” as the method students are taught to decode written English (the process of turning groups of letters into words).

But there’s one enormous problem with sounding out. English cannot be sounded out.

The fact that English cannot be sounded out has been studied extensively. For instance, Dr. Godfrey Dewey in his book “Relative Frequency of English Speech Sounds” (Harvard University Press) found that fewer than 1 in 5 of the most common words in English are spelled phonetically. And Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 English sounds – an average of 44 spellings per sound!

English spelling is too irregular to reliably sound-out. As an example, consider this one sentence where the very common “ea” vowel combination can be pronounced 13 different ways:

Wishing for students to be able to decode English by sounding out the letters is doomed to failure. That’s why English dictionaries (unlike the dictionaries for every other Latin based language) have a pronunciation guide. A pronunciation guide is included because English cannot be sounded out.


It’s also why children in Italy learn to decode Italian (an almost perfectly phonetic language) in 3 months, while children in the US are expected to take 3 years to accomplish the same thing (though many never do).

As long as phonics-based programs are used for reading instruction, a high rate of failure is guaranteed.

(This is an even bigger problem for ELL students since the phonics-based approach is predicated on the idea that students will “sound out” words they already know – and ELL students don’t know those words.)

So how do you turn your students into successful readers? To paraphrase Einstein, if you want different results, you need to try a different approach.


Reading Kingdom provides a signficantly different approach.

Reading Kingdom is an online program that teaches children 4-10 to read and write with comprehension at a 3rd grade level (Lexile score of 750). It’s the only program available that uses the patented Six Skill Integrated Method created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world’s leading experts in language and literacy development in children.

While Reading Kingdom teaches children how sounds work in English (phonology), it doesn’t rely on children sounding out to be able to decode. Rather, it places sounds in the context of six key written language skills, and when children learn all six skills they learn how to read in a fraction of the time. In fact, Reading Kingdom teaches students to read and write with comprehension at a 3rd grade level in only 12-18 months.

Here is a video overview of the program that explains exactly what the Six Skill Integrated Method is and why it works: http://goo.gl/UhGdgP

If you have students or children who would benefit from becoming successful, proficient readers, I urge you to try Reading Kingdom. Please give us the opportunity to show you how well it works. You will see the difference in 30 days.