Sounds Like Fun

An Update on our Early Years English Improvement Project

Teaching English makes you think a lot about how words are spelt and how they sound. Words like tough, bough, cough and dough look similar but sound completely different. And starting from the other direction, words like sight and site sound the same but don’t look it. This can be confusing for school pupils especially when they are learning English as their second language. From secondary school, Ethiopian students learn all their subjects in English so those that fall behind in primary school risk big disadvantages later on in school.

2020 marks Together We Learn’s seventh year training Ethiopian teachers to use a phonics approach to teaching English. Instead of memorising the sound and spelling of words, children learn the most common sounds so that they can start learning how to sound words out themselves. In that time, we have seen really positive results with children gaining an extra six months improvement in their reading age.

We are working with the regional education bureau in Amhara with the eventual aim for every primary school in the region to receive training. 2019 marked the first year that we trained Amhara teachers outside of Gondar, training field workers in the cities of Dessie, Debre Markos and Debre Tabor. In each new city, we linked with ten schools and invited two teachers to training.

At the end of 2019, our first semester training sessions took place with 75 grade one and two teachers from 40 schools participating. The training was led by Jolly Phonics trainer, Luwam, and supported by our local project manager and field workers.

Unfortunately, before we could hold our second semester training sessions, including our second year working with pre-service trainee teachers, the outside world intervened and Ethiopian schools were shut to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We are keeping tabs on the situation in Ethiopia and hoping that schools open this autumn to start their school year on schedule. We are planning to rerun the training again in 2020-21 and reconnect with the same teachers we worked with last year. We are ambitious to see big improvements in students’ English ability at the end of the year.

Our literacy project in 2018:


teachers trained


pupils reached

months average improvement in reading age

Our literacy project since we began:


teachers trained


pupils reached

months average improvement in reading age
Together We Learn - Ethiopia