What are the Phonics Learning Difficulties?

Frustrated, because you seem to be going no where with helping your child to learn his phonics? Fret not! One possibility is that your child could be facing a phonics learning issue. So, what then are phonics learning difficulties?

Phonics learning difficulties, also known as phonics-based reading difficulties, refer to challenges that young individuals may experience when learning to associate letters or letter combinations with their corresponding sounds. These difficulties can impact a person’s ability to read, decode words, and develop strong reading skills.

Some common phonics learning difficulties:

Phonics Learning Difficulties

1. Phonological Awareness Difficulties: 

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Difficulties in phonological awareness occur when a child has hearing limits which could be a delay in growth or a disorder in the way they have ‘learnt’ speech sounds. This can make it challenging for these kids to understand the relationship between letters and sounds and lead them to producing sounds in their speech incorrectly.

2. Letter-Sound Correspondence: 

Learning letter-sound correspondences involves linking the sounds in spoken words to letters in written words. Some learners may struggle with associating letters with their corresponding sounds. They may have difficulty blending sounds together to form words or segmenting words into individual sounds.

3. Decoding Difficulties: 

Decoding is the ability to apply one’s knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, in order to correctly pronounce written words. Understanding these relationships gives children the ability to recognize familiar words quickly and also to figure out words they haven’t seen before. Here, it is the process of using phonics skills to sound out and read words. Individuals with phonics learning difficulties may find it difficult to apply the letter-sound rules consistently and accurately when decoding unfamiliar words.

4. Fluency Challenges: 

Phonics difficulties can affect reading fluency, making it harder for individuals to read text smoothly and at an appropriate pace. They may struggle with word recognition, leading to slow and labored reading, frequently stopping at unfamiliar words, lacking in memory of words that they have previously come across and lacking expression appropriate to meaning of the words or phrases. Like a chicken and egg problem, children who then find reading laborious would tend not to want to read making their learning journey an uphill struggle. 

5. Spelling Problems: 

Since phonics skills are closely tied to spelling, difficulties in phonics can impact spelling abilities. Individuals may struggle with spelling words correctly because they have difficulty hearing and applying the appropriate sounds for each letter or letter combination.

6. Comprehension Issues: 

Students who do struggle to learn phonics and word attack skills will spend most their energy hyper-focusing on single words, rather than the passage as a whole. When young learners spend an exhausting amount of cognitive effort on decoding words, their reading comprehension thus suffer. Difficulties with phonics can interfere with understanding the meaning of the text and making connections between words and their context. How then can this child get the point of the text or story or the details and supporting points the author is expounding?


It is important to note that phonics learning difficulties can vary in severity and manifestation from child to child. Some individuals may have mild difficulties, while others may face more significant challenges that require targeted interventions and support. Early identification and appropriate instructional strategies can help individuals overcome these difficulties and develop strong reading skills.

Parents will need to be patient and creative.

Some activities that can help children with phonics learning difficulties develop phonics skills at home could include:

– play games with parents and siblings such as coming up with good words or even nonsensical words that begin with the same sound

-make flashcards and use them often and everywhere so that such children can link sight to sounds

– read or sing nursery rhymes as these can show how words tend to repeat and also how they have similar sounds or, in other words, how they rhyme 

– create fun alphabet scavenger hunt by making use of old newspapers and magazines; get creative and make it fun and enjoyable as reading is difficult for a child with phonics learning difficulties

The more fun you make learning activities to become, the more motivated your child is likely to participate.

 Do remember to consult your child’s teachers and partner with the school to provide added support and make your child’s learning run in tandem to reinforce what he is learning and in order to see improvement in his mastery of phonics. Children with phonics learning difficulties can be nurtured and one can patiently see improvement especially if caught at an early age.

Here in ‘Seriously Addictive English’ (S.A.E.) @ HOUGANG, we use a structured phonics approach and an integrated literacy skills curriculum to help children read fluently and write confidently. The structured phonics approach simplifies English language into 44 sounds that can help the early learner to read and write. Our curriculum is customized for each child, even for children with phonics learning difficulties, according to their competency levels while we incorporate a variety of activities and text types to inculcate an interest in reading first with guide and then to confidently read on their own.

Check out also our carefully structured modules which cover motor skills for the little ones, phonics, reading comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, structuring text, planning and independent writing.

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