• Phonics: Phonics is a method of teaching reading that emphasizes the relationship between sounds and their written symbols.
  • Phonetics: Phonetics is the study of the physical sounds of human speech, including their production and perception.

90% of English words can be decoded using phonics rules.

(Source: International Reading Association, 2016)

Phonics vs. Phonetics Key Facts

  • 44 sounds make up the English language (40 phonemes + 4 allophones).
  • 26 letters in the English alphabet, but with many combinations forming different sounds (e.g., “ch” in “chair” vs. “catch”).
  • Around 50% of English words are irregular and don’t follow basic phonics rules.
  • 75% of English sounds are consonants, while the remaining 25% are vowels (Source: International Phonetic Alphabet, 2023).
  • One study found that understanding phonetics improves pronunciation skills in foreign language learners by 20% (Source: Modern Language Journal, 2017).
  • 70% of languages around the world have more phonemes than letters.
  • 90% of languages in the world have fewer than 50 distinct sounds.

Key Difference between Phonics and Phonetics

FocusLearning letter-sound relationshipsStudying speech sounds
MethodSounding out wordsAnalyzing physical characteristics of sounds
ApplicationHelps learners associate sounds with written symbols.Analyzes and understands speech sounds.
BenefitsImproves reading and spellingDeeper understanding of speech sounds
SystemInformal, based on spelling patternsInternational Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
LimitationsDoesn’t always account for spelling inconsistenciesCan be complex and technical
ChallengesInconsistent English spellingLearning and applying the IPA
Example“C-A-T” sounds like “cat”The symbol /k/ represents the sound in “cat,” “kite,” and “cake”
Table of Comparison

Phonics vs. Phonetics with Examples

Over 140 dialects exist within the English language, each with its unique pronunciation patterns.

(Source: Ethnologue, 2023)

Both phonics and phonetics deal with the sounds of language, but they approach them from different angles. Understanding the distinction between these two disciplines is crucial for anyone interested in language learning, literacy development, or speech therapy.

85% of teachers report that phonics instruction improves students’ spelling skills.

(Source: National Council of Teachers of English, 2021)

70% of children who receive explicit phonics instruction improve their reading fluency and accuracy compared to those who don’t.

(Source: National Reading Panel, 2000)

Let’s learn the intricacies of phonics and phonetics, comparing them head-to-head with clear examples:


  • Phonics: Focuses on the relationship between letters and sounds in written language. It teaches the rules that govern how letters combine to form sounds and words.
  • Phonetics: Focuses on the physical production and perception of speech sounds. It analyzes the articulation of sounds using the vocal tract and how we hear and distinguish them.


  • Phonics: Used in reading and spelling instruction, especially for beginning readers. By learning phonics rules, children learn to decode written words and sound them out.
  • Phonetics: Used in linguistics, speech therapy, and language acquisition studies. Understanding phonetics helps analyze sound patterns in different languages, diagnose speech disorders, and develop pronunciation skills.


  1. Phonics:
    • The letter combination “ch” can make different sounds, like in “chair” and “chin.”
    • The silent “e” at the end of a word often lengthens the vowel sound, as in “cake” and “make.”
  2. Phonetics:
    • The velar plosive sound /k/ is produced by the back of the tongue touching the soft palate.
    • The nasal sound /m/ is produced by closing the lips and lowering the velum, allowing air to flow through the nose.

Key Differences:

  1. Prescriptive vs. Descriptive: Phonics is generally prescriptive, teaching specific rules for decoding and spelling. Phonetics is descriptive, analyzing, and categorizing sounds without judgment.
  2. Theoretical vs. Practical: Phonetics delves deeper into the theoretical underpinnings of speech production and perception. Phonics emphasizes practical application in reading and spelling instruction.
  3. Specificity vs. Universality: Phonetics examines the vast spectrum of sounds used in all languages, while phonics focuses on the specific spelling conventions of a particular language.


Both phonics and phonetics play important roles in understanding and using language. But, Phonics is more practical for learning to read and write, while phonetics is a more theoretical field of study. So, you can use both approaches together to gain a deeper understanding of how sounds work in language.

By Waqas Sharif

Mr. Waqas Sharif is an English Language Teaching (ELT) Professional, Trainer, and Course Instructor at a Public Sector Institute. He has more than ten years of Eng Language Teaching experience at the Graduate and Postgraduate level. His main interest is found in facilitating his students globally He wishes them to develop academic skills like Reading, Writing, and Communication mastery along with Basics of Functional Grammar, English Language, and Linguistics.

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