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This classroom-based research study focuses on the English literacy skills of Karen-speaking adults who are non-literate or semi-literate in their first language. The study asks: Does explicit phonemic awareness and decoding instruction using whole-part-whole instruction in the context of the language experience approach help these learners make the connection between letters and sounds in English to improve their ability to detect word-initial phonemes? At the beginning of each week of the six weeks of instruction, the students described a picture, and the words that they provided were the basis of the weekly phonemic awareness activities. Data was collected using student interviews, a pre- and post-phonemic awareness test and a teaching journal. The results showed that there was an increase in students' ability to detect word-initial phonemes after six weeks of explicit instruction.