What Do Alien Words Have To Do With Learning To Read?

What are Alien Words?

Alien Words are not really alien!
Alien Words are not really alien!
When learning phonics there are two things that children need to learn:  They need to learn the rules for phonics to know how to read words, and then they need to learn to read those words without using rules (so that they can read quickly and confidently).  Ok they also need to learn tricky words but I feel that kind of falls into the second category.

Here's the thing - if your child already knows many of the words that they should know, how can you check their phonics level?  How do you know if they know how to pronounce a word because they are following the phonics rules, or because they have seen the word loads of times before?
Why "Alien"?
Why not just call them made up words, or nonsense words?  Alien just sounds a bit more fun and interesting to children than anything else.  Also, nonsense isn't as motivating.  It's worth being clear that these words are made up though.

And it's even worse for someone who might not be as close to your child - for example a teacher.  At the end of Year 2 all children go through a phonics assessment to gauge their phonics level.  To do this properly, the best way is to check with "alien" words.  These are words your child is less likely to have seen before since they are made up words.

How Do You Teach Alien Words?

You don't.  Seriously - why bother?  If you teach your children the phonics rules, they will learn automatically how to pronounce alien words.  If they are pronouncing words off by heart - good for them, that's how adults read anyway.

The only time, as a parent, I personally would bother with alien words was if there was a phonics rule I thought one of my children was struggling with, I wanted to practice and I suspected they knew how to pronounce most of the words with that phonic in.  In that case, I might consider making up some alien words to check.
Careful: Alien Words ARE NOT Tricky Words
In fact they are the exact opposite.  This is because Tricky Words are real words that don't follow the normal pronunciation rules.  Alien words are fake words, that do follow the pronunciation rules.
Other than that I would leave this bit to the schools, it's really more a way for the schools to check their progress (and probably for the government to check up on schools).  If you're still not sure, let me share an anecdote: we've never taught my son alien words, but he had a phonics test with alien words half way through Year 1 (It was a local school test).  What did he get?  100%.  How did he get that without doing alien words?  Because we had done the phonics rules to time and again with him and then practised them on real words.   Strange concept that teaching children to read real words instead of made up words!

Lists of Alien Words

If you really thought there was going to be a list here, you didn't read my previous writing.  Go back and read it first please!  There's no point in having a list as the idea is you make up a word to check their understanding of phonics (so the word you need to make up needs to contain the phonics rule you are testing!).  It doesn't actually even matter if it is a real word - the point is that your child hasn't seen it before.  In fact a real word, which they haven't seen before, is probably even better.
Using Alien Words
If you do decide to use made up words, just make it clear to your child these are nonsense words.  You want to try to avoid that word sticking in their head as a real word, which is why schools call them alien words.
For example - let's say your child is struggling with the trigraph "ure".  You've covered all the words you can think of (sure, manure, pure).  You can't think of a real world so you make one up - take any letter, let's say "l" and add it to the start - lure.  Oops that's a real word.  Even better though, your child probably hasn't seen it.  If you think they have, you could just try another letter - go in alphabetical order if it helps (you don't have to): "m".  OK - "mure".  That's not a real world (well I don't think it is?)  So see what your child says.  Then you could try "nure".


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