Mr. Q on Phonics

Pocket Quintilian

For over ten years now, on and off, I have been dipping into the holy text of this blog, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, and it still has the capacity to surprise me. There is practically no contemporary education debate which Quintilian does not at least touch upon in this 2000-year-old work, and in every case he addresses it with his usual intelligence, common sense and generosity.

The debate over phonics is generally considered a very modern affair, but today I came across the following, from Book I of the Institutio. It covers everything – letter-sound correspondence, nonsense words, fluency, blending, the lot. Not to mention the danger of relying on word-memory rather than proper recognition of the letters and their corresponding sounds. Over to Mr. Q:

obstat hoc agnitioni earum non intendentibus mox animum ad ipsos ductus, dum antecedentem memoriam sequuntur. quae causa est praecipientibus, ut etiam, cum satis…

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