The syllabic method of reading and writing is one of the most popular methodologies for teaching reading and writing.

This method was developed by the German pedagogues Friedrich Gedike and Samiel Heinicke, and consists of teaching reading by combining vowels and consonants to form syllables. Progressively, more difficulty is incorporated, reaching as the last levels the formation of words and sentences with meaning. Let’s see what its characteristics are and how it is used.

Characteristics of the syllabic method

The syllabic method is a synthetic method, i.e. it starts with small units and gradually works its way up to more complex units. It uses syllables as the basic individual units , going beyond the individual sounds of the letters.

When we speak, we do not pronounce the sounds of each letter in isolation. We do it by pronouncing them syllabically, that is, by making combinations of two or more sounds. That is why this method starts from the syllable as a learning unit of reading and writing, since it is the smallest pronounceable unit.

While other systems of teaching reading focus either on the spelling (how the letter is written) or only on the phoneme (its pronunciation), the syllabic method allows these two aspects to be combined, teaching how to pronounce syllables and gradually teaching how to use them to form words and phrases .

How do you use it to learn to read and write?

The syllabic method allows to teach students to read following a process in which the complexity increases. First, children are familiarized with letters and their sounds . Once they have learned how each letter sounds, they proceed to teach combinations of sounds.

It starts with the vowels, and images and words can be incorporated to facilitate their learning. Once this point is reached, they are taught syllables composed of combinations of a consonant followed by a vowel (e.g., ma, me, mi, mo and mu). Once they have learned these combinations, the difficulty is increased by teaching syllables that are more difficult to pronounce, with two consonants (e.g., bra, bre, bri, bro and bru). When students have mastered these two types of syllables, those with an inverse structure are taught, i.e. a vowel followed by a consonant (e.g. ar, er, ir, or and ur).

Finally, the most difficult syllables are taught, those in which there are diphthongs (e.g., gua, güe…), tripthongs (meow), four letters (e.g., pres) and mixed syllables.

The teaching of the syllabic method can be done using books with several types of syllables, which are called syllabaries .

Advantages of this educational method

The syllabic method has a number of advantages that made it one of the most popular methods of teaching reading and writing:

1. Omit the spelling of each letter separately

It gives importance to the pronunciation of syllables.

2. Syllables are sound units

This allows the acquisition of reading and writing in a quick and agile way since they can be memorized more easily.

3. Can be taught in a logical and organized way

This is done by presenting exercises with increasingly complex syllables and following a preestablished hierarchy.

4. It is very useful in certain languages

The syllabic method is very effective in teaching how to write and read languages such as Spanish or Finnish , since they are very phonetic (transparent languages) and are written as they sound.

5. Empowering children

Being a simple method of learning also allows it to be taught in an easy way, encouraging the students themselves to help others learn to read and write.

6. Not too expensive

It does not require too many resources to apply , being a relatively inexpensive method to apply in the classroom.


While it has been very effective in teaching reading and writing, the syllabic method has a number of disadvantages, which may make other methods more appropriate depending on the situation:

1. Can generate impatience

By starting with the pronunciation of the simplest vowels and syllables, and gradually adding to the complexity, it may be that students do not see the need to go through so many steps to learn to read and write.

2. Based on meaningless units

The syllable, as a unit, is generally meaningless by itself.

3. Can become monotonous

Some children do not like the syllabic method, since involves having to learn the syllables mechanically and repetitively , which can become a boring process.

4. Can be confused with the goal to be achieved

As it is a mechanical learning process, the child can focus only on how to read and write the syllables correctly, and may not understand the text as a whole and have difficulties in understanding it.

5. The possibility of syllabification

Syllabification can occur, which is the phenomenon where children read each of the syllables that make up the words separately instead of reading the word as a whole.

6. In some languages it costs more

It is not the most suitable method for learning languages that are read differently from how they are written , such as English or French (opaque languages).

Other methods

While the syllabic method has been useful for transparent languages such as Spanish, there are other methods that have been used throughout the history of teaching in order to perfect reading and writing skills.

1. Literal method

The student begins to learn the vowels and then moves on to the consonants, one by one . He learns to call each letter by its name (“pe”, “ene”, “cu”…). This is a problem because it ignores how the letters sound in the word and the rules that govern their phonology.

2. Phonic method

The sound of each letter is taught . Each sound is usually accompanied by an image that is recognisable to the child, allowing it to be assimilated more easily (e.g. the sound /s/ with the image of a snake).

This method can be done gradually and makes it easier for the child to get used to any new sound. However, because some letters are pronounced the same way, there can be confusion (e.g. “ce” with “zeta” and “ka”).

3. Global method

Unlike the syllabic method, this method starts from the word or phrase and moves progressively towards its elements: syllables, letters and sounds . In other words, it goes in the opposite direction.

First, the children learn the words as a whole, usually accompanied by images that represent them, and little by little they are made aware of the phonemes and spellings that make them up.

Author: Nahum Montagud

Bibliographic references:

  • Marchesi, A., Coll, C. and Palacios, J. (2004). Psychological development and education: 3. Developmental disorders and special educational needs. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Calderón G., G.; Carrillo P., M., and Rodríguez M., M. (2006). Phonological awareness and syllabic writing level: a study with preschool children. Limit, 1(13), 81-100.
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