Decoding is the technical name for figuring out the spoken sound represented by a letter or a group of letters. It can also mean identifying or reading a whole word in synthetic phonics.
The word decoding is used because the English writing system is based on an alphabetic code. Letters of the alphabet are a symbolic code for the sounds in spoken English.
Decoding a whole word using synthetic phonics involves several steps:
- Identifying individual letters or groups of letters in a word.
- Recalling the individual sounds that each letter or letter-group represents. This step is called sounding out if the sounds are spoken out loud.
- Merging the sounds together to form the word (this step is known as blending or synthesising).
For example, a child with basic phonics knowledge should be able to identify the letters ‘c’-‘a’-‘t’ in the word cat and recall the sounds associated with each letter. They can then merge the sounds together to make the word.
With practice, children can eventually decode words without consciously thinking about each of the above steps (this is known as automaticity).