Decoding Unfamiliar Words:
Tips and Strategies

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If you get stuck decoding unfamiliar words there are some tips below to help. Some of them you may already know. Again these tips are just tips not hard and fast rules. If you want to adapt any of them, fine, go for it. Tell us about it on the contributions page.

Try to come up with other things that help you read unfamiliar words. Remember it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it improves your reading. Only you and no one else knows what works best for you.

Strategy List:

  • This is the most important one go over the phonic alphabetic code chart. I try to go over this as much as possible. Building your memory of the various ways to spell the smallest units of speech sound is a fundamental of learning any language. It is the first, and most important, step for any dyslexic person. The best part is it will make reading a lot easier.

  • If a word is hard to decode when reading it syllable by syllable try breaking it down into smaller pieces. I generally find it easiest to read unfamiliar words two letters at a time.

  • If you find a word particularly hard to read try breaking it down into different combinations of two or three letters. For example:

  • Sec ret ary
    Se cre tary

  • Right you probably already know this one. Use the context of what you are reading for clues to unknown words.

  • Try not to skip difficult words even if you have read them before. The hard ones are the best for practice.

  • Try to read challenging books. It’s difficult to say what a challenging book is as everyone’s literacy ability is different. Don’t pick a book that is too difficult you want to read for enjoyment. You don’t want to make it a chore.

  • It can be difficult to know how to pronounce unknown words. I try to pronounce unfamiliar words the way that sounds most English. Or to put it another way, the way that sounds most like a real word. The majority of the time it is correct.


The phonic alphabetic code chart is so important for improving decoding skills. Actually it may be the most important thing for literacy in general. Sorry if I go on about it but it makes English so much more understandable.

On the list above are all the things I find useful for reading unfamiliar words. However always be thinking about what personally works for you. There is one strategy guaranteed to work for everybody practice, practice, practice. Click here for more reading help.

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