How word recognition occurs can be something difficult to be explain. Here I would like sharing about how word recognition occurs especially in English to readers. To read English words, we learn to match sounds, or phonemes, with letters, or graphemes. When we learn to read English words, we learn to perform Learning to Read, Write, and Spell 65 several steps very rapidly. First, we identify the first letter(s) of the word and try to find a matching phoneme. Then, working left to right, we match the rest of the graphemes and phonemes of the word. Holding the sounds in our working memory, we recombine them to form a mental representation that we attempt to match with a word from our listening vocabulary.
Once that lightning-fast process has occurred, we can access its meaning. Of course, if we are reading out loud, there are additional steps needed in order to pronounce the words. Accessing and recognizing individual words is called word recognition, and recognizing the sound and meaning of words across connected text is what we call decoding. There are two broad categories of words in English: those with easy-to-match phonemes and graphemes, called decodable words, and those that have to be memorized as a whole, called sight words. Decoding and sight-word recognition are the primary word-attack skills used for English word recognition. There are good reasons that English words are taught through both decoding and memorization.
On the other hand, when we write to represent words in written form, which is sometimes called recoding, we retrieve the word from our listening vocabulary and try to write the letters that represent the sounds of the word, proceeding in order from left to right. We also learn to write some English words not by matching them with the sounds, but from sheer rote memorization. Like decoding, recoding words in English can proceed in two possible ways, by putting letters in order, or by learning how to write some words “by heart,” without breaking them apart. Although some of the shortest and most common words are sight words, overall the great majority of English words are decodable, and learning to decode is unavoidable in order to read and write in English.
Put another way, when learners decode English words, they start with the letter symbols and match them with the sounds, and when they write English words, they start with the sounds and match them with the letter symbols. No matter which end we start from, both processes involve matching the English sound and letter symbol combinations. The skill of matching sounds and letter symbols is called phonics. Phonics knowledge requires a good understanding of how the English sound and writing systems map onto each other. In order to help learners develop the phonics skill, teachers need to understand how the phonemes and graphemes of English work together in the English writing system. The teacher also needs to appreciate how the orthographies of ELLs’ first languages resemble and differ from English and how that affects learning to read.
For a native speaker of English, the process of learning to read and write words usually begins before or in kindergarten and continues until it is in place by third grade. This is a lengthy and often laborious process, and must be cemented into place before the focus of reading changes from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Learners of English as a new language need to go through this process just like native speakers, but it might take place at any age or grade level, depending on when ELLs begin to learn English as a new language. Phonics skills are critical to cracking the code for reading English and must be accounted for in any comprehensive instructional program. As Calderon (2006) nicely summarizes, “Whatever the grade level, teachers with ELLs will eventually have students who need instruction in these basic skills, before they can comprehend a text” (p. 131).