Phonics For Adults
The Secret to Success


Phonics for adults is every bit as important as it is for children. That’s because phonics is the basis of reading and writing. I teach adult literacy and have found, in almost all cases, that students have not been taught phonics adequately.


Despairing adults often talk to me about the tragic impact of not being able to read and write. I was so concerned about this that it prompted me to create this website. If you want to know anything about phonics, what it is and how it can be taught, you have come to the right place. I have written many articles about it here.


Gaps In Knowlege Cause Difficulty

In a nutshell, phonics for adults is about the different sounds letters and combinations of letters make when spoken.

Often adults come to me, concerned that they have dyslexia when in fact they haven’t! What has actually happened is that they have missed learning phonics as a child and have developed giant holes in their knowledge. The impact on their lives has been devastating.

Adults with literacy problems devise fascinating methods of covering up their daily struggle with reading and writing. A common trick is that they appear to ‘read’ quickly. What they are really doing is guessing words in the hope that no-one will notice their problem. This means that they develop a habit of reading words incorrectly and this can go unchecked for 40 or 50 years.

Here are some simple words I have heard adults misread because they have not mastered phonics ...

walking is read as waking

chop is read as shop

trouble is read as terrible

Adults who read like this have a little knowledge of phonics but not enough. They learned something at school but for a number of reasons (which I talk about below) their learning stopped.

Other adults I have worked with come to me unable to read seemingly simple words like hat, pet, dip, tot, sun.



Phonics for Adults Unlocks the Code

As an adult literacy teacher, I diagnose what has happened and at what stage in the student's life problems began.

The good news is that most adults make fantastic progress if taught phonics. It is never too late. Students I have taught, who are in their late 50s, have been overjoyed that they can actually read and understand newspapers and books when they thought they never would.

If you are reading this, you are probably trying to help someone who is struggling to read and write later in life. Although your student may appear to have major problems, a considerable amount can be done to help them.

Phonics for adults, while it might seem like a huge step backwards, is the secret.

In a moment I will tell you what I do when I work with an adult who struggles with literacy.

Later you can look around this website at other pages and find out in more detail about the various steps to take and methods to use. You will also find true stories about adults, their struggles and how their lives have been changed by learning phonics for adults.



Find Out What They Know

When adults come for literacy help they always come with some knowledge, but this can often be muddled. As a teacher, I like to work out what they already know, so that I can decide what is missing and what is confusing them.  Then I can fill in those gaps.

The majority of adults I have worked with developed problems in their first year of learning to read ... right back at the beginning when they were learning the sounds alphabet letters make. They failed to learn how to correctly pronounce these sounds. By the time they were about seven years old they stopped learning and were distressed.

When I get to work with them I know they need to learn phonics. For adults there are a number of reasons why they haven't progressed. Here are some of them ...

  • They weren’t taught to read using the phonics method. In many cases phonics wasn't taught in schools. Instead a 'whole language' approach was being used. You will find more about this in another article on this site which explains the phonics method vs the whole language method of  learning literacy skills. A second important article discusses a recent university study that proves a reading recovery program used extensively internationally for over 20 years has failed many learners because it does not teach phonics adequately.
  • As children they struggled because they had a preferred style of learning and method of processing information. When the teacher explained information in only one way, they struggled to understand and were left behind. Then they were put into "'special classes" where they felt lost and inadequate.
  • On top of that some had disrupted family lives.
  • Others had learning dificulties which were overlooked at the time.

Whatever the reason... they were destined to fail!


I am so excited about this website because I didn't know how to teach phonics to adults and you helped me a lot.

           Jonathan Zhang (US)



Filling the Gaps

Phonics for adults, almost without exception, starts with how the letters of the alphabet are pronounced.

Most adults know the letter names but often don't know the different sounds those letters make. 

So each learner should be tested to see which ones are known and which aren't. Remember, every adult will be different.

But there are some letter sounds that are particularly difficult. Here are some of them ...


a   b   c   d   e   g   i   j   n   o   p   q   v   w   u


Some get confused because of the slight differences between sounds ... or because they look similar.

Some examples are...

j and g

f and v

c and s

d    p and b

As most words have some combination of the sounds above,  you can imagine how crippling it is if adults struggle with them.

Here's one that many adults have trouble with.

Look at the 'a' in the following sentence ...

Here is a hat.


We read it as ... 'Here is 'uh' hat (which is correct.) In most cases it only says 'uh' when it is a single word in a sentence.

But when it is inside a word the letter 'a' makes the sound 'aaa' as in the word hat or 'ay' as in the word save.

When this is not known, the student reads a word like 'cap' as 'cup.'

When you think of how many times the letter ‘a’ appears in words you realise how difficult this problem makes learning phonics for adults.

The great news is that once these types of problems are eliminated, adult learners can move forward quickly and become capable readers.

For step-by-step help, read the other pages on my site. Much of the material covered, applies to adults as well as children.

it's important to be aware that adults need a particular approach when being retaught. Before you look at other parts of my site for the stage-by-stage details, read my article, Phonics for Adults: Top Tips . There you'll learn the questions to ask and the words to say to encourage your adult learner to open up and trust you after experiencing a lifetime of failure. Only then will they be receptive to learning. Once you have their support they will inspire you.



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