Teachers and parents use the teaching method called "phonics" to help children connect certain sounds with groups of letters in order to sound out words as they learn to read. The literacy program Hooked On Phonics claims to be able to teach anyone to read, using methods that are "fun and fast." During more than 20 years in which this program has been available, it has gained a great deal of notoriety. For some children, Hooked on Phonics has disadvantages as a teaching method, including differences in children's learning abilities, inconsistencies in phonics rules, the need for sight-word memorisation and the expense of the program.
Although the phonics method works for many children, a solely phonics-based curriculum such as Hooked On Phonics may not work equally well for every child due to individual learning issues and abilities. Children with hearing challenges, for example, may find it difficult to connect sounds and letter groups, while children with dyslexia often reverse groups of letters, causing confusion with phonetic learning. In addition, some children learn to read more easily using other methods. For instance, the "whole language" method teaches children to recognise entire words, rather than individual sounds.
In programs such as Hooked On Phonics, many words follow regular rules of phonetic pronunciation. However, many words in English don't follow the same rules. Trying to sound out words such as "you" phonetically, for instance, can cause confusion and problems for children who haven't learnt any other methods for reading. Differences in word or syllable pronunciation resulting from regional accents can also complicate the use of phonics for anyone learning to read. For example, people from different parts of the United States pronounce words like "roof" very differently. In addition, homonyms, words that sound the same but are spelt differently and have different meanings (such as too, to and two), can present ongoing spelling problems for children learning to read solely through the use of phonics.
Due to the large number of words that don't follow phonics rules, sight-word memorisation is still necessary for children who learn to read through phonics programs such as Hooked On Phonics. In other words, the child must memorise the spelling of many words individually, in order to recognise them on sight. Sight-word memorisation can present problems for children who have difficulties with rote memorisation, extending the length of time required for reading to improve.
The Hooked On Phonics program can be quite expensive. As of March 2010, a basic "Learning to Read" package can cost nearly £130, which is out of many parents' price range. Although individual books and activities can be purchased for less, the overall cost can still be excessive. To reduce costs, parents who want to use Hooked on Phonics can purchase previously used program materials, or join a parent co-op to trade school materials between age levels. Local homeschooling groups, garage sales or even online sites such as Craigslist also represent potential sources for used phonics materials.