Sight reading as a strategy in EYFS/KS1 - mrz?

(161 Posts)
Guilianna Wed 11-Jun-14 21:17:44

What would you say to a SLT convinced that 'sight reading' is as effective a strategy as phonics, and who advocates teaching mixed methods?

Euphemia Wed 11-Jun-14 21:30:15

Marking my place, as I'm in the same position!

Guilianna Wed 11-Jun-14 22:35:20

Nice to have some company Euphemia! grin

Panzee Wed 11-Jun-14 22:41:07

I am a wuss who just wants to get on with my own class and not worry about management. So I would nod and smile, then ignore it for my children. That doesn't help you , I know!

mrz Thu 12-Jun-14 06:10:02

Point out that if you teach them 44 sight words they will be able to read 44 sight words but if you teach them 44 sounds and how to decode they will be able to read any word they meet.

diamondage Thu 12-Jun-14 06:21:23

Only a parent but I thought both the EYFS & new NC, which comes in from Sept so not that long, were a) statutory (in parts) and b) highly prescriptive & explicit in stating that mixed methods are not to be used & even that early readers must match phonic knowledge? If so then perhaps start by asking your SLT whether or not they are interested in following their legal duty? Bit confrontational I suppose, but if they're not interested in best practice & research (of which Mrz has referred to in many previous posts) not sure where else you go!

Euphemia Thu 12-Jun-14 07:04:25

My problem is that my HT taught infants for years and years, and is convinced her way is right. confused

diamondage Thu 12-Jun-14 10:26:36

Well not literally any word they meet, mrz.

Even as an adult I come across words that are new to me and could sound like this, or like that, and I have to find out which this or that is correct by looking it up or asking someone else.

The 44 sound/spelling correspondences don't enable you to know the right way to pronounce, and therefore read, all words, just all the phonetically regular ones and the commonly used phonetically irregular ones (such as eye, of, one). Of course this covers the vast majority of words, but definitely not all of them.

This might seem a pointless quibble but I think it's better to be 100% accurate so that there's the least amount of wriggle room for sight / mixed method proponents, and that, after all, is who the OP is having to convince.

You can't get away from the fact that the reason many old school teachers (I mean teachers using old school methods not teachers that are old grin) and heads are convinced that mixed methods work is because they do work for 80% or so of children. So I think the arguments against using mixed methods have to be water tight. Like having a statutory duty, or because well taught phonics allow children to decode the vast majority of words and will enable the majority of children to learn how to spell well, rather than just those with excellent visual memories.

I think some schools have managed to dismiss phonics because they've never actually taught it exclusively - they've continued with mixed methods and consequently their results have stayed they same.

orangepudding Thu 12-Jun-14 10:30:16

If mixed methods are not to be used from September what happens to those children using reading recovery?

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Thu 12-Jun-14 11:17:30

Maybe someone will helpfully use an effective reading program with them rather than one that has been proven not to work long term, orangepudding

However I suspect that schools using RR will just ignore the statutory requirements and carry on doing what they are doing.

Mashabell Thu 12-Jun-14 11:39:56

* if you teach them 44 sight words they will be able to read 44 sight words*
- Only if u insisted that they must not pay any heed whatsoever to the letters which spell them.
If u chose the words carefully, for example,
etc. and the children really learned to read them, they would learn far more than just to read the 44 words.

And teaching the 44 sounds and how to decode is nowhere near enough to enable children to read any word they meet, because English spelling is phonically too variable:
a: and – any, father, apron
a-e: gave – have
ai: wait – said, plait
al: always – algebra
-all: tall - shall
are: care - are
au: autumn - mauve
augh: daughter - laugh
ay: pays - says

cc: success - soccer
ce: centre - celtic
ch: chop –chorus, choir, chute
cqu: acquire - lacquer

e: end – English
-e: the - he
ea: mean - meant, break
ear: ear – early, heart, bear
-ee: tree - matinee
e-e: even – seven, fete
ei: veil - ceiling, eider, their, leisure
eigh: weight - height
eo: people - leopard, leotard
ere: here – there, were
-et: tablet - chalet
eau: beauty – beau
- ew: few - sew
- ey: they - monkey

ge: get - gem
-ger: anger - danger
gi: girl - ginger
gy: gym – gymkhana
ho: house - hour
i: wind – wind down, ski, hi-fi
- ine: define –engine, machine
ie: field - friend, sieve
imb: limb – climb
ign: signature - sign
mn: amnesia - mnemonic

ost: lost - post
-o: go - do
oa: road - broad
o-e: bone – done, gone
-oes: toes – does, shoes
-oll: roll - doll
omb: tombola - bomb, comb, tomb
oo: boot - foot, brooch
-ot: despot - depot
ou: sound - soup, couple
ough: bough - rough, through, trough, though
ought: bought - drought
oul: should - shoulder, mould
our: sour - four, journey
ow: how - low

qu: queen – bouquet
s: sun – sure
sc: scent - luscious, mollusc
-se: rose - dose
ss: possible - possession
th: this - thing
-ture: picture - mature
u: cup – push
ui: build – fruit, ruin
wa: was – wag
wh: what - who
wo: won - woman, women, womb
wor: word – worn
x: box - xylophone, anxious
- y-: type - typical
- -y: daddy – apply
z: zip – azure

That's why phonics is an essential but not exclusive way of learning to read. Children need to practise word recognition as well. - Nobody becomes a fluent reader of English until they recognise the majority of common words (around 5,000) by sight, instantly, without the need for decoding.

Masha Bell

Lonecatwithkitten Thu 12-Jun-14 15:56:57

I have a friend who has been a primary school teacher who says of phonics over the years has been something you either have had the door wide open and taught loudly or shut the door and teach quietly.

mrz Thu 12-Jun-14 18:28:04

Yes diamondage literally any word in the English language

mrz Thu 12-Jun-14 18:29:10

"If mixed methods are not to be used from September what happens to those children using reading recovery?"

they will be taught to read

AuntieStella Thu 12-Jun-14 18:51:12

Masha does not get at phonics is not a one to one correspondence.

In learning all 44 sounds of English and the various spellings which indicate them, to can indeed read any natural English word.

If you think (wrongly) that phonics means there is a single spelling for each sound, then you will indeed see all sorts of problems. But at is based on an nadequate understanding of how phonics makes the bridges between the phonemes (ie meaningful sounds) and the spellings of a language.

mrz Thu 12-Jun-14 18:55:07
Guilianna Thu 12-Jun-14 20:21:49

I have the same situation as Euphemia, compounded by a Head of EYFS/EYFS with no lower KS experience who agrees and a jobshare colleague who talks about the magic e. Bringing up statutory requirements hasn't made a dent.

Guilianna Thu 12-Jun-14 20:25:17

The NZ study may help but I fear minds are made up.

mrz Thu 12-Jun-14 20:39:04

Sorry the NZ study was for orangepudding.

I think you need to point your SLT towards the new statutory curriculum and remind them that phonics teaching is very much a focus for Ofsted,

Guilianna Thu 12-Jun-14 21:48:49

They know phonics is here to stay, but see it as one possible strategy along with the wretched sight words. Thanks anyway. We are RI and Ofsted's due to come knocking. Happy days ...

mrz Thu 12-Jun-14 21:50:31

Ofsted just left here and they wanted to see phonics

diamondage Thu 12-Jun-14 23:03:59

Even if you know all of the alternative spellings it is still not always possible to know how to pronounce a word that isn't already in your vocabulary when the spelling corrispondances have more than one sound option. This is why many people read Mowgli as m/oe/g/l/ee instead of m/ow/g/l/ee or Smaug as s/m/or/g instead of s/m/ow/g.

It's not just names either, I regularly have to tell my daughter how words are pronounced because they are not in her vocabulary yet. It doesn't help her to know that there are 3 common options for /?/ because even if the word is in her vocabulary how does she know it's not a totally new word to her. And that's before even taking into consideration rare correspondances.

For example how could anybody read the word labyrinth without first being taught that in this word 'by' is spelling /b/ (we say labrinth, not sure if some have a schwa in there). If it's already in their vocabulary and they get it right it's still a guess. Sure they've used all the regular correspondances to help them get there but they sure as heck haven't sounded out the word and then blended it because if they had they would add an /i/ as is crystal or an /igh/ as in style. If the word isn't in their vocabulary then they can not read the word correctly without some one telling them (or looking it up).

If a person comes across a new word to them, that has more than one option for how it could sound, then they can only work out which sound / spelling correspondance apply once they've heard someone else pronounce it. It just isn't possible to know from the text alone, you have to hear it.

The thing I don't get is that I think the arguments for synthetic phonics are water tight - it's the best system & I'm a fan BUT I still think it's disingenuous to say you can decode any word with it. Encode any word, sure, I can work out the spelling / sound correspondences for yacht because I already know the sounds. Decode any word just from text, I don't think so.

No doubt you'll either ignore me or add a one liner just telling me I'm wrong, but not actually explaining why you think I'm wrong. Of course I think that's because I'm right wink

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 06:00:29

For example how could anybody read the word labyrinth without first being taught the point is that children are taught and they have an EFFECTIVE strategy that works when they do meet new words.

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 06:06:23

Interestingly you picked Mowgli and Smaug as your examples as they are both pseudowords (as in PSC) made up by their authors.

Cheryzan Fri 13-Jun-14 06:13:00

Can someone point me to the new guidance that sight words / mixed methods should not be taught.

And does it (legally/ofstedy) apply in KS2?

annebullin Fri 13-Jun-14 06:33:40

Cherzan - Do a search online for the new National Curriculum. It's on

ks1 is phonics.

At ks2 children should be decoding fluently at an age appropriate level (as they have been taught using phonics)
'Most pupils will not need further direct teaching of word reading skills: they are able to decode unfamiliar words accurately, and need very few repeated experiences of this before the word is stored in such a way that they can read it without overt sound-blending.'

Children who aren't reading fluently at ks2 must be taught using phonics.

'pupils who are still struggling to decode need to be taught to
do this urgently through a rigorous and systematic phonics programme so that they catch up rapidly with their peers.'

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 06:34:06

The programmes of study for reading at key stages 1 and 2 consist of two dimensions:

word reading

comprehension (both listening and reading).

It is essential that teaching focuses on developing pupils’ competence in both dimensions; different kinds of teaching are needed for each.

Skilled word reading involves both the speedy working out of the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words (decoding) and the speedy recognition of familiar printed words.
Underpinning both is the understanding that the letters on the page represent the sounds in spoken words. _This is why phonics should be emphasised_ in the early teaching of reading to beginners (i.e. unskilled readers) when they start school.

Good comprehension draws from linguistic knowledge (in particular of vocabulary and grammar) and on knowledge of the world.

Writing down ideas fluently depends on effective transcription: that is, on spelling quickly and accurately through knowing the relationship between sounds and letters (phonics) and understanding the morphology (word structure) and orthography (spelling structure) of words.

The number, order and choice of exception words taught will vary according to the phonics programme being used. Ensuring that pupils are aware of the GPCs they contain, however unusual these are, supports spelling later.

Young readers encounter words that they have not seen before much more frequently than experienced readers do, and they may not know the meaning of some of these.
Practice at reading such words by sounding and blending can provide opportunities not only for pupils to develop confidence in their decoding skills, but also for teachers to explain the meaning and thus develop pupils’ vocabulary.

By the beginning of year 3, pupils should be able to read books written at an age-appropriate interest level.
They should be able to read them accurately and at a speed that is sufficient for them to focus on understanding what they read rather than on decoding individual words. *They should be able to decode most new words outside their spoken vocabulary, making a good approximation to the word’s pronunciation. As their decoding skills become increasingly secure, teaching should be directed more towards developing
their vocabulary and the breadth and depth of their reading, making sure that they become independent, fluent and enthusiastic readers who read widely and frequently.

As in key stage 1, however, pupils who are still struggling to decode need to be taught to do this urgently through a rigorous and systematic phonics programme so that they catch up rapidly with their peers. If they cannot decode independently and fluently, they will find it increasingly difficult to understand what they read and to write down what they want to say.

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 06:39:23

It is essential that pupils whose decoding skills are poor are taught through a rigorous and systematic phonics programme so that they catch up rapidly with their peers in terms of their decoding and spelling. However, as far as possible, these pupils should follow the upper key stage 2 programme of study in terms of listening to books and other writing that
they have not come across before, hearing and learning new vocabulary and grammatical structures, and having a chance to talk about all of these.

Mashabell Fri 13-Jun-14 07:09:04

I regularly have to tell my daughter how words are pronounced because they are not in her vocabulary yet.

So do all parents and teachers. That's why learning to read English involves so much reading practice, with listening to children read aloud and helping them to access words they get stuck on.

E.g. conf*ine*, eng*ine*, mar*ine*. - No child can read those words accurately until they are part of their vocabulary. Having to know a word before u can read it is not decoding.

meditrina Fri 13-Jun-14 07:19:49

A child who can produce any one of the homograph pronunciations, or who knows that there are only two or three possible sounds for that grapheme is decoding.

I think there is some misunderstanding of what phonics actually is, let alone how it is taught, and of the basic idea that natural language is about sound.

Mashabell Fri 13-Jun-14 07:33:33

A head who talks about the magic e.

So do u prefer to talk about open and closed vowels?
Or split digraphs?

Whatever the terminology, the letters a, e, i, o and u all have at least two sounds, with the long and short ones being the two main ones: mad - made, them - theme, bit - bite, not - note, cut -cute.

A final -e indicates a preceding long vowel at least 95% of the time, but unfortunately around 200 common words have a surplus -e (e.g. have, imagine) and mess up the system - and cause problems for the teaching of phonics.

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 07:42:17

A head who talks about the magic e.

So do u prefer to talk about open and closed vowels?
I prefer to talk about vowels and consonants - talking about magic e or open/closed or long/short is confusing for beginner readers and totally unnecessary

kesstrel Fri 13-Jun-14 08:06:31


I think the key here, in response to your point, is what the guidance says about "making a good approximation to the word’s pronunciation." If you think about it, even words that we would regard as highly phonically regular will end up being pronounced differently in different countries and regions, so the idea that there is ever a single "correct" pronunciation is illusory anyway.

But the point is, skilled readers are able to decode any word to a sufficiently close approximation that it allows them to register the word in their reading vocabulary, and recognise it in future, so that eventually it is recognised automatically. Studies show that all skilled readers (apart from a tiny number with eidetic memories) do this, and the implication is that the process is necessary for enlarging your reading and writing vocabulary.

sazale Fri 13-Jun-14 08:09:33

My DS in Y2 has input from the LA specialist teaching service due to his great difficulty learning to read/write and they are teaching him mixed methods alongside school doing their version of RR (written by the senco). I'm interested in the guidance as well thanks.

Mashabell Fri 13-Jun-14 08:30:23


misunderstanding of what phonics actually is, let alone how it is taught, and of the basic idea that natural language is about sound.

Are u saying that natural language is not about sound?
The main claim of phonics evangelists like Mrz is that phonics is about teaching sounds, e.g.:

if you teach them 44 sounds and how to decode they will be able to read any word they meet.

LittleMissGreen Fri 13-Jun-14 08:59:18

"Even if you know all of the alternative spellings it is still not always possible to know how to pronounce a word that isn't already in your vocabulary when the spelling correspondances have more than one sound option.."

I guess though, that if a child had no idea of a particular word then using a look and say method - ie guessing from the picture, they would have no clue whatsoever as to what the new word might be. If they have never heard the word marine no amount of looking at a picture of one would get them to it. Whereas a child with phonics knowledge would get most of the way there and then need guiding by the person they are reading with.

diamondage Fri 13-Jun-14 10:16:28

meditrina: A child who can produce any one of the homograph pronunciations, or who knows that there are only two or three possible sounds for that grapheme is decoding.
No, they are trying to decode, whether or not they are successful depends on many factors, principally, the rarity or unusualness of the spelling to sound correspondence, how many possible sounds the spelling might represent, and whether or not the child already knows the word, so that they can fill in the unknown part or parts.

In fact the process is akin to having a jigsaw puzzle where some gaps can be filled with more than one jigsaw piece. The child may recognise the picture even before they've put in all the pieces if they know what the picture represents. Equally they may sit their trying out different possible pieces and still not be successful in working out what the picture represents.

Mashabell agreed!

kestrel Agree with your first paragraph but not your last.

There is a difference between pronunciation variations due to regional variations and mispronouncing a word due to not knowing how to pronounce it. Certainly not all people bother to look up new words to see how to pronounce them, they simply mispronounce them or skip them altogether, especially if they can guess the rough meaning from context. How many people pronounce coelacanth with a hard c and oe rather than an s and ee? Who teaches children about Greek phonics, and when (certainly they were not covered in the phonics phases, how about in the new curriculum?) yet English is peppered with them, along with French ones and so on. And if you aren't explicitly taught you certainly can't get the pronunciations correct.

LittleMissGreen I agree that phonics is best!!!! What I disagree with is the premise that if you know your 44 sounds and know every single possible spelling correspondence you will then be able to pronounce any word using phonics alone.

mrz the point is that children are taught and they have an EFFECTIVE strategy that works when they do meet new words.

As a strategy it is highly effective for regular correspondences (certainly to the level of the phonics test) but its effectiveness is compromised by the many irregular spelling correspondences. I remain of the view that it is not possible to decode any word from text alone.

And all new words are like pseudo words when you first come across them.

kesstrel Fri 13-Jun-14 10:39:36


"Agree with your first paragraph but not your last."

What don't you agree about in the last paragraph?

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 17:20:12

The main claim of phonics evangelists like Mrz is that phonics is about teaching sounds, e.g.:

if you teach them 44 sounds and how to decode they will be able to read any word they meet.

that clearly proves you don't understand how phonics is taught or what phonics is masha

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 17:33:50

As a strategy it is highly effective for regular correspondences (certainly to the level of the phonics test) thank you, the level of the phonics test is that children are able to decode ANY unfamiliar word they may encounter - which is why pseudowords are used

diamondage Fri 13-Jun-14 18:46:42

mrz - Hmmm, well it's true the phonics test doesn't require children to get pseudo words "right", they can provide any answer as long as it's phonetically plausable.

So if by "decode any unfamiliar word" you mean say a phonetically plausible combination of sounds then yes, being taught to phase 5 (or equivalent) can do that. I still don't think it will enable a child to decode any word with the correct pronunciation.

For example would you expect pupils taking the phonics test to correctly decode words like assure, forward or ancient IF they had not already been explicitly taught or come across those words already (e.g. been told the pronounciation by their parents or taught by you the infrequent spelling of ar for /oo/) or would you accept a phonetically plausable attempt and THEN correct them and call that decoding? How about aeroplane, antennae or archaeology? What of recipient, catastrophe, or fascism.

mrz Fri 13-Jun-14 18:56:54

if the word isn't in their vocabulary they won't know which version is correct until they are told the word but they will have an effective strategy for finding ALL the alternatives including the correct one ...

maizieD Fri 13-Jun-14 23:02:17

For example would you expect pupils taking the phonics test to correctly decode words like assure, forward or ancient IF they had not already been explicitly taught or come across those words already (e.g. been told the pronounciation by their parents or taught by you the infrequent spelling of ar for /oo/)

Just where is the /oo/ in 'forward', diamondage? Are you suggesting that the 'ar' is a schwa?

maizieD Fri 13-Jun-14 23:05:01

P.S Nobody would expect children taking the phonics check to be able to decode any of your exemplar words. There won't be many 6 y olds who encounter assure & ancient in their reading...

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 06:52:27

Well my Y1 class are reading aloud from The Great Kapok tree and coped with ancestors and generations independently

IsItFridayYetPlease Sat 14-Jun-14 08:23:31

Tell your SLT the Year 1 children will get poor scores on the phonics check next week! The result are part of the whole school data the SLT are accountable for, so that should wake them up!

MrsKCastle Sat 14-Jun-14 08:46:59

MaizieD I'm surprised that you don't think many 6 year olds will encounter assure, ancient etc. It seems to me that if phonics is taught well, then those kind of words will not be within the capabilities of many Y1 children at this point in the year.

MrsKCastle Sat 14-Jun-14 08:48:26

Aargh. Rogue 'not' changed my whole meaning.

It seems to me that those words will be within the capabilities of many Y1 children.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 08:58:15

To be fair maizieD works with older children who have been failed by sight words and mixed methods.

diamondage Sat 14-Jun-14 09:33:05

Firstly maizie & mrz thank you for responding and engaging with me, please keep in mind that I am a parent that is desperately trying to continue phonics with DD2 because despite being able to pass the phonics test she comes across a few words most days that she can't decode without help. She doesn't have the tools she needs, the school won't provide them and I am floundering about because there's so little, if not no help with the complex code.

maizie where we live (SE) we say forward, afterwards etc. to rhyme with wood, should, hood, so definately the short /oo/ sound and not the schwa that starts "about".

DD2 read ancient and assured (with my help to sound out the tricky parts) from her school books when she was 5. Now she is just 6 she is on the Collins Big Cat Emerald level 15 and NC L3b. However I don't see what age has to do with it as surely the teaching is the same whether children are 5 or 8? This isn't a boast I am saying it to illustrate why I am desperate for information that will ensure she can "find all the alternatives including the correct one" because despite my very best efforts she can't unless words are relatively regular and/or within her knowledge.

mrz but ancestors and generations are regular.

It's the irregular spellings (or ones I haven't taught yet) that cause problems. So for example there are words such as ruin and recipient, where the vowels each represent a sound rather than representing one sound. Yes the sounds are common but ui more usually represents /oo/ as in fruit and ie more usually represents /igh/ etc. Is there a name for vowels representing 2 sounds like that and are there any rules or indicators to know when it happens (e.g. most words ending "ia" seem to represent /ee/schwa so dd can read all words that end in ia and could decode Ian, which wasn't in her vocabulary when she first came across it).

DD can read archaeology and it's other forms (and I can even spell it now grin which reinforces my view that my mild dyslexia is down to not being taught phonics as a child) BUT DD still doesn't have the tools to attempt any word that has "ae" as a spelling. I don't know how to pronounce many of these words myself myself because a) I was never taught phonics and b) I can't find any phonics programme that covers these sorts of spellings.

So consequently DD can read fluently & use phonics to independently read new words that are phonetically regular but multisylbic words where it is not possible to know which sounds various vowels represent stump her, and short words like Niarobi for example and who knows how many other words that don't have common correspondances.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 09:39:42

mrz but ancestors and generations are regular.
but diamondage so are ancient and assure and forward

SweepTheHalls Sat 14-Jun-14 09:45:55

Somewhat off track, but can I just ask as a parent of a reception child..... I explain worlds like came, with magic e to change the a to an A when he sound sit out. What should I be doing?

BeatriceBean Sat 14-Jun-14 09:49:58

I was just about to say the same!

My daughter has really flourished with phonics in reception... but I've said magic A or "A split E" I think they've learned.

Why shouldn't I say magic e - what should I say instead? I'm v keen to promote phonics alongside school smile

MrsKCastle Sat 14-Jun-14 09:52:15

Ancient and forward both contain less common gpcs than ancestors and generations.

Mrz I have a huge amount of respect for you and your knowledge/promotion of phonics, but I do think Diamondage's questions are valid- how should parents deal with those rare gpcs? In an ideal world, teachers would be introducing them at an appropriate rate, but we all know that it doesn't always happen. In fact, despite the new regulations I'd say it's rare to find a school teaching complex code well.

With my DD I am continuing to do the incidental teaching thing- so if we see 'ancient' we might discuss how we say 'ay' rather than 'a'. We might talk about other words where we say 'ay'. And the same with 'ci' and 'sh'. But without having access to a list of English words with the same correspondance, it's hard to know how to really move DD on in her understanding.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 09:56:37

There isn't anything magic about the "e" the spelling is <ae> but in this word it is separated by another sound.

We would explain that a long time ago came was spelt caem but someone decided it would be better as came.

MrsKCastle Sat 14-Jun-14 09:56:52

SweeptheHalls and BeatriceBean the advice is to point to the 'a' and the 'e' and say something like: 'in this word, these two letters work together and make the sound 'ay'. So the word is c-ay-m- 'came'.

Then you could look at other words with the same spelling pattern.

[I have a feeling that we shouldn't be saying they 'make the sound' but I can't think of another simple alternative- 'these letters represent the sound 'ay'' maybe?]

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 10:03:01

Ancient and forward both contain less common gpcs than ancestors and generations.

sorry but I disagree MrsCastle

a common spelling of the sound /ae/ n /n/ ci /sh/ e /e/ n /n/ t /t/

f /f/ or /or/ w /w/ ar /ə/ d /d/

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 10:03:53

We would say "are how we spell the sound"

diamondage Sat 14-Jun-14 13:11:37

These are not regular spellings for the sounds they represent. If they were my DD wouldn't need support & yr 1 children who pass the phonics test would not need support to read these words correctly.

DD knows the 'ci' /sh/ correspondence - here we say ainchnt (literally) not ainshnt - is that how you say it?

I know of no other words apart from that group that use ar as a spelling for /oo/, I'm not saying there aren't any others but unless you can show me a list with more than 20 common words then it is objectively rare/irregular when compared to the many words where ar represents /ar/.

Thank you for you support MrsCastle.

Unfortunately mrz I am left thinking that you can't answer my questions (because if you can then why won't you?) and the way you deal with this is to invalidate my questions by telling me they are moot (i.e. that my definition of irregular or rare is the problem).

But telling me black is white is of no help to me OR my daughter.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 13:33:05

Yes they are regular spellings for the sounds they represent ... if your daughter and children in Y1 haven't been taught them yet that is perhaps an issue for the school and yourself diamondage.

If your local accent pronounces ancient as "ainchnt" then the teacher should be teaching that the ci represents the sound /ch/ where we live (and drop in that other people say "ainshent" instead - my class are quite happy that the a in grass is /a/ in our accent but some people say "grarss") accent isn't an issue with phonics - the teacher teaches to the local accent.

I thought I was answering your questing by explaining how the sounds are represented in the words but perhaps that isn't what you want to hear?

debbiehep Sat 14-Jun-14 13:37:18

It's good to see great questions being raised here. I found out about this thread via Twitter and thought I could contribute.

We need children to be both fearless and flexible when it comes to lifting the words off the page. We want them to know about the history of the English language leading to the many languages which have influenced our current language - and we want them to know once writing was invented, the mixture of languages and spelling systems led to the English language having the most complex alphabetic code in the world.

To this end, some of you may know already that I provide a varied range of Alphabetic Code Charts - free to download - to inform, train and support various people including parents and including for the learners themselves to understand and use.

Making good use of your preferred Alphabetic Code Chart - both in school and at home - can really support with the incidental phonics teaching which parents can contribute to hugely.

I also provide free posters with suggested 'patter' or 'language' for both reading and spelling purposes. You can take any word at all and for reading purposes, simply say, "In this word, these letters [or letter] are code for the /sh/ sound" (or whatever). So, supply the 'sound' and point out the code.

Once you get used to promoting phonics AS an alphabetic code - that you are teaching 'a code' or that the children 'are learning' the code - then it should go without saying that the teaching and learning is supported with explicit visual aids of 'the code' - hence my constant and heavy promotion of the use of Alphabetic Code Charts to underpin both our systematic synthetic phonics teaching and our incidental phonics teaching.

I go much further than this. I actually base on my fundamental guidance not on 'systematic synthetic phonics' alone, but on 'two-pronged systematic and incidental phonics teaching'.

I write about this via free pdfs which you can find on the 'Free Resources' page at Phonics International. This site also leads to other sites where I provide many free resources and much information - intended not only for the teaching profession but for parents as well.

After all, we're talking about teaching the parents' children.

It should be a shared aim - especially in something so very important as literacy basic skills which is truly life-chance stuff for some children.

So, I have read the comments on this thread and I have had a great deal of empathy with questions about 'pronunciation' when children are endeavouring to decode new and unknown words. The better they know about the history of the English alphabetic code - and that it is very complex and they will need lots of teaching and lots of help with words they don't know - for example, how to come up with an exact pronunciation (according to the region in some cases), then the more fearless and flexible our young learners will be.

They need to be comfortable with the idea that our code is tricky but that by teaching it well, they can have jolly good try at decoding and most words are basically straightforward - especially when underpinned by good spoken language.

If I am allowed to add links to a message, I'm happy to flag up the exact electronic links for the various posters and resources I've mentioned but I don't know what mumsnet allows.

Otherwise, if anyone has an interest in further phonics information - and the 'two-pronged' approach, you can find the resources via the Phonics International website.

All the best,


mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 13:41:56

MrsC the way parents and teachers should deal with unusual spellings for sounds is exactly the same as they would for any other spelling for a sound.

Last week I had an inspector in observing and I had asked my Y1 class to write down as many spellings for the sound /ae/ as they could. Some managed 4 or 5 but some knew 10 ways even one that applies to only one word in English ... they knew because they had been told. It's that simple.

If you need a list I recommend although you can buy phonic dictionaries.

Panzee Sat 14-Jun-14 14:27:59

Debbie Hep is ace, I remember her contributing to TES threads when I used to go on there. I have her free code chart, it's a great resource. I'm glad you're here Debbie, another voice of reason!

SoundsWrite Sat 14-Jun-14 14:43:40

Just to take a few points from diamondage and a response to Guilianna:
The truth is that children's spoken vocabulary far, far exceeds their reading vocabulary until well into secondary school so it's not so common for a child to come across a word, decode it and for it not to trigger recognition.
However, it does happen, as it does for fully literate adults. So, what do you do if you happen across a word in, say, Scientific American, and you don't know how to pronounce it? You make an educated guess and then, if it's important to you, you look it up in a good dictionary, or online, or you ask someone how to say it.
With the word 'labyrinth', whether you say it as I do as lab uh rinth, or as you do as lab rinth doesn't matter. If it's already in your spoken vocabulary, you'll recognise it. On the other hand, if you want your pupil/child to be able to spell it, you split it into its syllables /l/ /a/ | /b/ /uh/ | /r/ /i/ /n/ /th/. The only difficulty now is the schwa or weak vowel sound frequently encountered in weak syllables of polysyllabic words like this. You tell the child that we spell the /uh/ like this <y>. The you get them to write it sound by sound across the three syllables and read it back and ask them, if they had to spell the word tomorrow, what would be the difficult bit? And get them to focus on it. Actually, this spelling is really a bit of an anachronism. You'll see in Tyndale's version of the Bible that <y> is a frequently spellyng for what has become in many modern spellings an <i>. The other thing is that, because language is dynamic and pronunciation changes over time and with fashion, spelling can be a bit conservative and lag behind.
But, of course, you are quite right!: 'It just isn't possible to know from text alone'. That's because language is phonologically based: sounds (spoken language) come first and written language is a relatively recent invention. Furthermore, on account of accent differences, we will probably say all sorts of words slightly differently. That doesn't mean though that every single sound in every single word hasn't at some point been assigned a spelling.
Going back to the original question from Guilianna 'What would you say to a SLT convinced that 'sight reading' is as effective a strategy as phonics, and who advocates teaching mixed methods?' I'd say to the SLT that there is no scientific evidence to support their hypothesis. The scientific community is resolved that all the data converges on a consensus that teaching phonics results in significant gains in word recognition and spelling. and that teaching whole language is a 'very efficient way to generate large social class differences in reading achievement', to quote Keith Stanovich (from his essay 'Putting Children First by Putting Science First' in Progress in Understanding Reading: Scientific Foundations and New Frontiers.

MrsKCastle Sat 14-Jun-14 15:00:40

Good to see the phonics experts on here. I've learned so much about phonics on Mumsnet over the years and it's doing my DD a huge service.

Debbie and mrz thanks for reminding me about the alphabetic code charts. I am trying to encourage DD to refer to one with her writing.

Soundswrite I'm sure children do have a larger spoken than reading vocabulary, but surely if they're reading at an appropriate level they'll be encountering unfamiliar words on an almost daily basis? Certainly DD1 (Y1) often meets new words, and we approach them exactly as you say.

debbiehep Sat 14-Jun-14 17:12:56

Thank you for the appreciative comments.

We've come a very long way since years ago on TES. I remember when I attended local authority training for the National Literacy Strategy (as a class teacher) being told, 'Did you know that there are 40 or so sounds in our language - but don't worry - you don't really need to know them all'.

In the old TES days, phonics was not a given, we were fighting a corner to persuade teachers to use a systematic phonics approach and certainly government and Ofsted were not involved properly in this understanding at all.

Compare that to the mumsnet forum for parents, talking alongside programme authors and teachers, where we are discussing the intricacies of our complex English alphabetic code and how best to teach and learn it! I think it is fantastic!

Regarding words we provide children through a cumulative word bank, I don't worry too much about whether the words are within children's spoken vocabulary.

There are so many children nowadays who are attending our schools speaking various languages -and for whom English may be an additional or even new language - that it is impossible to provide words on the basis of whether or not they are in the spoken language of each learner.

However, once you have taught the children the letter/s-sound correspondences of those words, the point is that they can recognise the letters and letter groups, articulate them from left to right of the printed word - and 'discern' a 'word' and come up with a pronunciation.

In many words this pronunciation may be approximate - whether or not the child knows the word. If the word is commonly known to the child, then the child usually and pretty automatically tweaks, or modifies, the pronunciation of the word to the way he or she pronounces the word (which in itself does not guarantee a 'correct' pronunciation by an adult standard necessarily!).

As others have said, however, the alphabetic code knowledge and blending skill has enabled the child to discern a word probably close enough to be of value - to prompt the actual word, or to bring a 'new word' into spoken language. Of course such a word needs to be within a sentence if context is to help with 'meaning' - that is, deducing the meaning of any new and unknown words.

The beauty, also, of not worrying about whether all the children know all the words, is the acceptance of teachers that at least the children are learning the technical code knowledge and skills which will ultimately tune their ear into the English language and English articulation in circumstances when it is not the mother tongue or in circumstances when an English-speaking child is not articulate and has an impoverished spoken language anyway.

Further, by having such a bank of cumulative decodable words which may well not be within children's spoken language, it makes the children particularly adept and attentive to phonics application and the blending skill - and this is the equivalent of them practising with nonsense words. In other words, children do not need to practise blending with nonsense words when there are plenty of new and unknown words that they are practising routinely and with which they are expanding their vocabulary and language comprehension.

debbiehep Sat 14-Jun-14 17:19:25

oops - or, like mrz mentions over and again - the teacher simply tells the child the meaning of the word - the teacher teaches.

So often the arguments around phonics seem to suggest that children are left entirely to their own devices to apply phonics knowledge and skills - phonics detractors pick holes (or try to) in the role of phonics by being awkward about particular words (for example, within this actual thread!) - but it is entirely relevant that a teacher is on hand to do some teaching and to support learners as required.

Yes, we have such a complex alphabetic code - and yes, there are many words which can cause frustration as they don't seem to fit a main or dominant pattern within the code - so parents and teachers must constantly be saying, "In this word, these letters are code for....." and provide the sound - and for spelling, "In those words, we spell that sound with this spelling alternative as in the word.....".

I encourage any parents to join in with these phrases which is why I provide the posters with the language and the alphabetic code charts. Not all parents will want to or feel able to - but over time we are all getting more and more knowledgeable about unpicking the complex code and how best to teach it!

hiccupgirl Sat 14-Jun-14 17:45:05

I'm not going to join the debate above about phonics as the only effective way of teaching reading, writing, spelling in English.

What I will add from my teaching of children with various different SEN and working with SLTs is that it is not unusual for children who are struggling with their speech and language to find hearing and recalling phonic sounds very difficult and in these cases sight words can be a very effective way of getting them going with reading etc. There is also a wide range age when children become physically able to hear the separate sounds in a word like 'cat' - this can vary from under 2 to 7+. If a particular child cannot distinguish separate phonics sounds until around 7 they are going seriously struggle with a phonics only approach until that age. Some children with particular SEN are recognised as being unlikely to learn to read using a phonic only method and sight words, usually accompanied by a picture cue are more effective.

None of this means they shouldn't be included in phonics teaching but despite the new regulations, phonics only does not suit all children and I would guess this is why a SLT is looking at whole word recognition too.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 18:30:27

As a SENCO I'm interested to know which particular SEN are recognised as being able to read using phonics only hiccupgirl?

MrsKCastle Sat 14-Jun-14 20:16:13

Thanks again Debbie. The more you say, the more confident I feel about what I'm doing with my daughter. She's the only child I've taught to read from scratch, but (based on the sample of one) I'm very very impressed by phonics.

SoundsWrite Sat 14-Jun-14 21:02:56

In answer to hiccupgirl (and in the spirit of trying to helpful and de-mythologise a couple of common illusions).
It is simply untrue to claim that children find hearing sounds difficult. We are primed for speech and babies in the womb during the last trimester of pregancy are able to differentiate speech sounds from non-speech sounds. When I'm told by teachers or anybody else that the children is having trouble with his/her sounds, I ask 'Can the child speak and understand ordinary language?' if they can, they can hear sounds; otherwise, they wouldn't be able to talk.
What young children do find difficult is trying to match and remember the correspondence between sounds and spellings. However, even here, with high quality phonics teaching, virtually all children can learn to match them AND remember them. When I refer to 'high quality phonics teaching', I'm not merely echoing a cliche. For example, if in word building, instead of using three-sound words beginning with non-continuants (such as /b/, /d/, /t/, etc.), you begin with sounds you can hang on to and stretch out (such as /s/, /m/, /w/, etc.), children can learn to segment sounds in words very easily and quickly.
As for the allegation that some children with SEN can't learn to read using phonics, the research doesn't support any such claim; in fact, to the contrary, the evidence indicates that there wouldn't be anything like the number of children with SEN if phonics was taught properly, and those who do have an SEN are shown to be helped considerably by high quality phonics teaching.
All children benefit from phonics teaching - as long as the person teaching understands clearly what the relationship between the sounds of our language and the spelling system is and how to teach from simple to complex - which is why I agree with virtually everything mrz and Debbie have said.

hiccupgirl Sat 14-Jun-14 21:25:57

I didn't say some children could only learn through sight words not phonics or that children are not primed for language. Children still acquire the ability to distinguish individual phonemes during a wide age range. My DS is 4 1/2 - he is great at beginning sounds but ask him to put together a-t as at or to segment it and he can't yet do this. He couldn't identify initial sounds until nearly 4, other children can do this much earlier, others are later. This is despite me being a teacher who naturally makes sure he's being exposed to phonics!

But many children with Speech and language difficulties, particularly with their receptive language find distinguishing phonemes difficult which then has implications for a phonics only approach. If a child has a difficulty with both their receptive and expressive language production then they are likely to mishear phonemes as well as mispronounce them. This makes using phonics accurately very difficult and other strategies used along side are useful.

In terms of children who are likely to find phonics more difficult in my experience many children with Down's Syndrome, acquired dyslexia (often through brain injury) and some types of cerebral palsy can struggle because they do not hear the sounds accurately or they find the sounds very difficult to process due the way their brains are processing information.

I've worked with children with a range of different SEN for 7 years now and lack of progress in phonics and then reading and writing is a really common thing I come across with the children I see.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 22:00:33

In terms of children who are likely to find phonics more difficult in my experience many children with Down's Syndrome You might like to look at

hiccupgirl Sat 14-Jun-14 22:10:32

mrz you will notice I didn't say all children with Down's Syndrome or the other conditions I mentioned but many I have personally worked with. But thank you for the link anyway.

I appreciate I'm not singing from the accepted hymn sheet for this thread so will bow out.

mrz Sat 14-Jun-14 22:40:15

You aren't singing from the evidence sheet hiccupgirl whether or not there is an accepted line on this thread which I don't believe there is

CecilyP Sun 15-Jun-14 09:29:08

If seems 'evidence sheet' contradicts what hiccupgirl experiences day in, day out, in her working life. Perhaps she should be allowed to provide her own evidence. If children who literally cannot progress with phonics are in a tiny minority, it is quite possible that there was not a single child with this difficulty in the samples from which the accepted evidence was produced. This does not mean they don't exist.

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 09:55:43

Yes CecilyP the evidence does suggest that phonics won't work for 1 or 2% of children, those with the most severe developmental needs

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 09:59:31

and that it is less effective when taught as part of a mixed method approach ...

diamondage Sun 15-Jun-14 10:00:53


I thought I was answering your questing by explaining how the sounds are represented in the words but perhaps that isn't what you want to hear?

Where, exactly, have I asked you to help me by explaining how the sounds are represented in words? I have explicitly stated that encoding is not an issue, indeed I have even given examples of how sounds are represented in my accent for particular words.

To reiterate my explicit questions:

Is there a term for vowels representing 2 sounds (such as in ruin and recipient), given that most children are taught that two vowels represent one sound?

Are there any rules or indicators to know when it happens (i.e. when two vowels next to each other represent two rather than one sound)?

And the implicit one:

Is there any additional guidance on teaching the complex code that does not involve me having to work it out for myself as I go along so that I can teach my DD in a systematic and logical way? The guidance and reading books available for the simple code are plentiful and comprehensive. Then it all stops, and now I have to refer to Wikipedia, the Lexicon or add to the Phonics International chart myself.

Yes they are regular spellings for the sounds they represent ... if your daughter and children in Y1 haven't been taught them yet that is perhaps an issue for the school and yourself diamondage.

And exactly how many other words use "ci" to represent the sound /ch/? Your view that the problem is my definition of regular reminds me of the sentiments from the Lexicon of English Spellings, to which you linked:

We propose that any spelling is regular if it appears in more than just one word. Spellings that occur in only one word we will refer to as being unique, and those that occur in no more than two or three words as being unusual. But if a word that contains a unique spelling occurs with high frequency within normal speech (therefore also appearing with high frequency in written texts) we would also regard that as a regular spelling. However, we only know of one such example of a word frequently encountered in both speech and text that contains a unique spelling of a sound: that word is of, within which the single-letter <f> represents the sound 'v'. The word of occurs so frequently in spoken and written English that it is not possible to do other than consider this unique spelling of 'v' to be regular.


So their proposal is that because a word with a unique spelling appears frequently, its unique spelling is now regular (i.e. usual or normal)? Many of the sounds spelling correspondences referred to in this document are rare (i.e. not occurring very often), which I think would mean 20 words or less (not including compound words), in fact even that is quiet generous when you compare it to how many words have common spelling correspondences.

I think the problem is that most phonics programmes only cover the simple code. Phonics books cover some alternative spellings but by no means all. In fact perhaps it is the lack of materials that means that many schools only cover simple phonics and then just move onto spelling rules, which may or may not follow a phonics based approach. However the spellings work doesn't help decoding the complex code if reading is far in advance of writing/spellings.


So often the arguments around phonics seem to suggest that children are left entirely to their own devices to apply phonics knowledge and skills - phonics detractors pick holes (or try to) in the role of phonics by being awkward about particular words (for example, within this actual thread!) - but it is entirely relevant that a teacher is on hand to do some teaching and to support learners as required.

This debate all started because I couldn't understand mrz stating that good phonic knowledge enables a child to decode any word. I am not a phonics detractor, as I have frequently stated. Just a mum trying her best to always teach via phonics because DD's schools use mixed methods. I am also not trying to pick holes by being awkward about particular words. In any case surely it is the words that are awkward because they do not follow regular phonics patterns, not the detractors because they point them out. In fact detractors propose the validity of other methods, I just want to understand how to teach phonics well.

There is a massive difference between the view that by using the phonics code a person can decode any word from text alone and the idea that you can decode the majority of words using phonics and text, but than still leaves many words that require extra help, be that from a teacher / parent on behalf of a child, or for adults, looking the word up or asking someone who knows the pronunciation of the word already.

I can live with an imperfect system (i.e. a code that is not transparent), what I can't live with is thinking that I'm doing it wrong and that DD, by now, should be able to decode any word she comes across independently because she's passed the phonics test, reads fluently and to a very high standard but still struggles when she meets words with rare spellings or spellings where there are too many options for her to choose from.

BucksKid Sun 15-Jun-14 10:21:32

But mrz, hiccupgirl was talking about children who have auditory discrimination problems. Not necessarily severe development problems at all!

Even if you believe that only applies to 1 - 2% of children - it's still valid to talk about. Those 1 - 2% of children are taught by someone, are somebody's children. Seeing as more than 100 people have probably read this thread, chances are this problem effects people who are reading this thread.

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 10:39:16

Is there a term for vowels representing 2 sounds (such as in ruin and recipient), given that most children are taught that two vowels represent one sound?

They have also been taught that one vowel (a-e-i- o-u ) represents one or more sounds and that if one doesn't work to try the alternatives and that sounds can be spelt with one, two , three or even four letters.

Are there any rules or indicators to know when it happens (i.e. when two vowels next to each other represent two rather than one sound)?

There aren't any rules in English just probabilities - English is complex no one suggests otherwise - which is why teaching needs to include understanding of the concepts.

Is there any additional guidance on teaching the complex code that does not involve me having to work it out for myself as I go along so that I can teach my DD in a systematic and logical way?

There isn't a single piece of guidance as this will depend on the programme being followed - so that is a question for your child's teacher. I use Sounds~Write which provides a clear systematic structure for introducing sounds and the alternative spellings for each sound as well as focusing on the spellings which can represent more than one sound

And exactly how many other words use "ci" to represent the sound /ch/?

since the /ch/ represented by ci is in your accent you are best placed to answer that question - try saying the word and identifying the sounds you can hear in your accent and match to the spellings or saying words with that spelling and listening to see if you pronounce it as /ch/ or /sh/ or something different - personally I would pronounce ancient as /sh/

I think the problem is that most phonics programmes only cover the simple code.* I don't know any programmes that only cover the simple code but I do know many schools who stop teaching the code at the end of reception of after one spelling for each sound has been taught - this is poor teacher knowledge

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 10:41:46

Children with auditory processing difficulties can and do learn with a phonics only approach _if taught well_ and I think that is the key factor

BucksKid Sun 15-Jun-14 10:55:53

I didn't say auditory processing problems. I said auditory discrimination problems. Which is different.

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 11:28:34

I said auditory discrimination problems. Which is different. yes it is ... sorry, accepted interventions for auditory discrimination problems would include phonics

SoundsWrite Sun 15-Jun-14 11:33:58

Children don't have problems with auditory discrimination either - but only if they're taught well. Through the medium of well-scaffolded processes, such as word-building, young (YR) children can be taught to discriminate sounds in simple CVC words.
At St George's C of E school in Wandsworth, where over fifty percent of children are on free school meals, 100 per cent of children in Y1 passed the phonics screening check. This is a clear indication that children can be taught these skills and at an early age.
What Debbie, mrz and I are suggesting is that where schools use high quality phonics programmes and they are done with a high degree of fidelity for half an hour every day, children learn to read.

orangepudding Sun 15-Jun-14 11:40:54

What happens if you have a child who can sound out the individual's letters of the word cat but when blending the sounds together says the word can. This is despite regular phonics teaching where all other children in the class are not having the same difficulties.

maizieD Sun 15-Jun-14 11:41:33

Are there any rules or indicators to know when it happens (i.e. when two vowels next to each other represent two rather than one sound)?

There are specific combinations of vowels which spell one sound. If the two vowels together are not one of those combinations than each is sounded separately, thus 'oi' = /oy/ whereas 'io' would be /ie/ /oe/ (iodine) or, maybe, /ee/ /oe/ (Rio) (or even /ee/ /o/ 'idiot'). When children are learning the 'legal' combinations they should be taught that in 'illegal' combinations the vowels are sounded separately. Of course, suffixes have to be accounted for, too; 'doing' is not 'doyng, nor is 'going' 'goyng', but this is not a very common problem (though people who don't like phonics tend to talk it up as one...)

This is one of the strengths of phonics as children learn to be very discriminating about the tiny differences in letter order which distinguish one word from another. It's the poorly, mixed methods, taught children who confuse words like 'diary/dairy' & 'trial/trail'

maizieD Sun 15-Jun-14 11:48:00


If I had a child who did that I would use a 'progressive blending' technique which cuts out the need for the child to recall each of the sounds s/he has decoded in the correct order.

So, child would sound out the word as per normal, then go back and blend the first two sounds only until secure with that combination; then move to the next sound (which doesn't have to be 'remembered' as it is there, written on page and can be 'read' again) and add that the the chunk which is already secure. This can be done all through any single syllable word.

BucksKid Sun 15-Jun-14 12:53:13

mrz - you need to do more than just phonics to have an impact on auditory discrimination problems.

SoundsWrite - people most certainly can have auditory discrimination problems. A very common example is Japanese people who can't hear the difference between 'r' and 'l'. But the same thing can happen to kids who's first language is English.

I'm very surprised that with all your experience you've never encountered this. But I certainly have.

I wouldn't think either FSM or EAL would make you prone to auditory discrimination problems.

100% of children in one school does not at all suggest that all kids can be taught this way. That is what, 30 kids? I can well believe that none of 30 kids had auditory discrimination problems. Does not for a second mean that it doesn't exist, or that you won't encounter problems with a larger sample size.

It's really dreadful the way you experts make everyone feel bad who's children or pupils can't learn with phonics. Make it feel like it's a teaching problem, when it may well not be.

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 13:05:42

Not really BucksKid - children are taught to listen closely to the sounds and to pay attention to the point of articulation as any SaLT would tell you.

BucksKid Sun 15-Jun-14 13:07:31

That's not what my SaLT has told me.

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 13:07:35

For the record I'm NOT an expert I'm a parent who is also a teacher and a SENCO.

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 13:08:24

It's what the many SaLT I've worked with over the years have recommended

Mashabell Sun 15-Jun-14 18:25:24

The only way to ascertain if a phonics only approach is any more effective than mixed methods would be to establish if this absorbs less teaching time. In the famous Clackmananshire study, children in the SP group received far more teaching, especially if they were showing signs of falling behind.

With English spelling being what it is, time devoted to teaching is what makes the big difference after initial phonics. It comes down to meeting the words which are tricky in some way, like 'any, many, once, other, only', often enough for them to become firmly fixed in pupils minds so they know how pronounce them without hesitation.

Nobody doubts the value of some phonics - of teaching the main sounds of the 81 main English spellings, i.e. the first one on the list below - although phonics fanatics claim that such teachers exist. After that it's a matter of sufficient recurring exposure of words with tricky bits in them, i.e. graphemes with more than one pronunciation.

The following table shows the English spelling system and its irregularities for the 44 English sounds.
(The figures in brackets show how many of the 7,000 most used English words which I have analysed use that spelling - and how many spell it differently.)
1. a: cat – plait, meringue (466 – 3)
2. a-e: plate – wait, weight, straight, great, table dahlia, fete (338 – 69)
-ain: rain – lane, vein, reign, champagne (39 – 19)
-ay: play – they, weigh,ballet,cafe, matinee (35 – 20)
3. air: care – hair, bear, aerial, their, there, questionnaire (31-are – 27 other)
4. ar: car – are + (Southern Engl. bath) (138 – 1)
5. au: sauce – caught, bought,always, tall, crawl (44 au – 76 other)
-aw: saw – (0)- but in UK 11-aw + 40 awe, or, four, sore, war
6. b: bed (0)
7. ca/o/u: cat, cot, cut – character, kangaroo, queue (1022 – 33)
cr/cl: crab/ clot – chrome, chlorine (192 – 10)
-c: lilac –stomach, anorak (89 – 9)
-ck: neck –cheque, rec (62 – 6)
k: kite/ kept – chemistry (124 – 7)
-k: seek –unique (36 – 5)
-sk: risk –disc, mosque (86 – 10)
qu: quick – acquire, choir (78 – 4)
x: fix – accept, except, exhibit (98 – 15)

8. ch: chest – cello (155 – 1)
-tch: clutch – much (24 – 7)
9 d: dad – add, blonde (1,010 – 3)

10. e: end– head, any, said, Wednesday, friend, leisure,
leopard, bury (301 – 67)
11. er: her – turn, bird, learn, word, journey (70er – 124)
12. ee: eat– eel, even, ceiling, field, police,people,
me, key,ski, debris, quay (152ea – 304)
--y: jolly– trolley, movie, corgi (475 – 39)

13. f: fish– photo, stuff, rough (580 - 44)
14. g: garden– ghastly, guard (171– 28)
15. h: house– who (237 – 4)

16. i: ink– mystery, pretty, sieve, women, busy, build (421 – 53)
17. i-e: bite – might, style, mild, kind, eider, height, climb
island indict sign (278 – 76)
-y: my – high,pie, rye, buy, I, eye (17 – 14)

18. j: jam/ jog/ jug (0)
jelly, jig – gentle, ginger (18 – 20)
-ge: gorge (0)
-dg: fidget– digit (29 – 11)

19. l: last– llama (1,945 – 1)
20: m: mum– dumb, autumn (1,128 – 19)
21. n: nose– knot, gone, gnome, mnemonic (2,312 – 34)
22. -ng: ring (0)
23. o: on– cough, sausage, gone(357 – 5)
want – wont (19 – 1); quarrel– quod (10 -1)
24. o-e: mole – bowl, roll, soul; old – mould
boast, most, goes, mauve (171 – 100)
-o: no –toe, dough, sew, cocoa, pharaoh, oh, depot (106 – 59)
25. oi: oil– oyster (29 –1)
-oy: toy –buoy (12 – 1)
26. oo (long): food– rude, shrewd, move, group, fruit, truth, tomb,
blue, do, shoe,through, manoeuvre (94 – 108)

27. oo (short): good– would, put, woman, courier (15 -21)
28. or: order– board, court; wart, quart– worn, quorn (188 – 16)
-ore:more – soar, door, four, war, swore,abhor (23– 17)
+ (14 –aw/awe in UK)
29. ou: out– town (74 – 24);
-ow: now – plough (11 – 4)

30. p: pin (0)
31. r: rug– rhubarb, write (1,670 – 27)
32. s: sun – centre,scene (138 – 49)
-ce: face – case; fancy– fantasy (153 – 65)

33. sh: shop – chute, sure, moustache, liquorice (166 – 30)
-tion: ignition– mission, pension, suspicion,fashion (216 – 81)

34. t: tap, pet – pterodactyl, two, debt (1,398 – 4)
--te: delicate – democrat (52 – 3)

35. th (sharp): this (0)
36. th (soft): thing (0)

37. u: up– front, some, couple, blood (308 – 68)
38. u-e: cute – you,newt, neutral, suit, beauty, Tuesday, nuclear (137 – 21)
-ue: cue –few, view,menu (20– 22)

39. v: van (0)
-ve: have –spiv (116– 3) [80 with surplus –e]
-v-: river– chivvy (73 – 7) – v/vv after short vowel

40. w: window– which (216 – 31)
41. y: yak– use (31 – 11)
42. z: zip– xylophone (16 – 1)
-se: rose –froze (85– 33)
wise– size (UK 31 – 3, US 11 – 22)
43. zh: -si-/-su-: vision, measure – azure (20 – 3)

44. Unstressed, unclear vowel sound (or schwa),
occurring mainly in 8 endings and 2 prefixes:
-able: loveable– credible(33 – 17)
-ccle: bundle (2 consonants + -le for -l) (0)
-al: vertical– novel, anvil, petrol (200+ – 32)
-ary: ordinary– machinery, inventory, century,carpentry(37 – 55)
-en: fasten– abandon, truncheon, orphan, goblin, certain (73 – 132)
-ence: absence– balance (33 – 26)
-ent: absent – pleasant (176 – 58)
-er: father –author, armour, nectar, centre, injure,quota (UK 340, US 346 – 135/129)
butcher – picture (42 –ure)
de-: decide – divide (57 – 29)
in-: indulge – endure (73 – 30)

Consonant doubling rule for showing short, stressed vowels
merry (regular) – very(missing) – serrated(surplus)
(503 - 601 - 219)

diamondage Sun 15-Jun-14 20:58:36

Mashabell If I got a vote on spelling reform I would vote yes, it's happened before, it's happened in other countries and goodness knows I'm not wedded to the complexity of the English phonics code, BUT I'm afraid I don't find your approach to grouping spellings and sounds logical or helpful at all. Even though the Lexicon misses some spellings out on the lists, the groupings make much more sense to me.


Thank you for answering my questions.

DD's teachers are of little use thus far, it's jolly phonics for the simple code then onto spellings, with no phonics teaching for reading at all now, so teachers will just say a word without explaining the unknown spelling/sound correspondence if an unknown, rare, or complex code spelling comes up in reading.

I have known more about the complex (and sometimes simple) code than all the teachers DD has had so far, which I've known by the erroneous materials they've provided and their insistence on mixed methods being good.

I feel far more relaxed now because I can revert to my previous expectations for DD (no longer thinking something is wrong because she can't sound out all new words independently).

She needed help with douvet, with me explaining it's a French word and so "et" represents /ay/ just as it does in ballet.

She also needed help with Nairobi and Masai, it was quite handy having these two words as at least the spelling pattern was a consistent "ai" for /igh/.

I very much like the exercise you describe where you ask your pupils to write words with as many different spellings for X sound as they can - I think this will be a useful activity for DD to do ... as and when we get the time!

Thanks again flowers

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 21:15:40

IMHO matched funding should have been ear marked for training teachers about phonics rather than allowing schools to purchase puppets and games.
Most teachers aren't trained to teach phonics and are much less informed than parents unfortunately.

I play sound bingo with my class you might like to try it

grid with various alternative spellings for sound we are learning in each box

I say a word containing the sound and they have to write it in the correct box - small reward for line of correct spellings and completed boards

mrz Sun 15-Jun-14 21:20:58

masha's lists aren't accurate just masha's own unique system of mixing sounds and syllables and suffixes etc

SoundsWrite Sun 15-Jun-14 21:25:37

To BuckKid
I have experienced the problem but the answer is all in the teaching. Try this:
100% of chn in a school in a very deprived area is a v. good pointer. I could give you more examples but I suspect it wouldn't make any difference.
Sorry you feel 'experts' make you feel dreadful. We're trying to help. But we're experts because we do this stuff all the time and we're very, very good at what we do. That isn't to say we don't make mistakes or that we think we're perfect. We don't! But, you know, you're right! It's nearly in every case about the teaching. And we're good at the teaching.
To orangepudding:
If the word on paper/whiteboard is 'cat' and the child says 'can', this is what I'd do:
Point to the letter <t> and say "If this word was 'can', this (pointing to the <t>) would be /n/. Is this /n/?"
If the child says yes, say, "This is /t/. Say /t/ here (making sure to say the sound very precisely). Now say the sounds and listen for the word."
On the other hand, if the child says, "No!. It's /t/."
You say, 'That's right!. Now, say the sounds and listen/read the word."
After that, draw three lines on a whiteboard and ask the child to write the word, one spelling on each line, and to say the sounds as they do. When they've done that, you get them to say the sounds and read the word.
Try it! It works!
Also for children like this, if you're teaching a whole class, ask four or five more able children to model saying the sounds individually and to say the word. Then ask children who are more hesitant to repeat, making sure you are pointing to each sound-spelling correspondence as they do this.

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 07:16:49
Mashabell Mon 16-Jun-14 07:43:58


My list above shows the main spellings for the 44 English sounds and also all the variants used for them. Because the MN operating system makes it impossible to highlight individuals letters in words, it is difficult to make them really clear on here.

Below u can see just the main spellings illustrated with just one word for each.

1. a: cat

2. a-e: plate
-ain: rain
-ay: play

3. air: care - the /air/ sound has no dominant spelling

4. ar: car

5. au: sauce
-aw: saw

6. b: bed

7. ca/o/u: cat, cot, cut
cr/cl: crab/ clot
-c: lilac
-ck: neck
k: kite/ kept
-k: seek
-sk: risk
qu: quick
x: fix

8. ch: chest
-tch: clutch
9 d: dad

10. e: end

11. er: her

12. ee: eat - the /ee/ sound has no dominant spelling
--y: jolly

13. f: fish
14. g: garden
15. h: house

16. i: ink

17. i-e: bite
-y: my

18. j: jam
-ge: gorge
-dg: fidget

19. l: last
20: m: mum
21. n: nose
22. -ng: ring

23. o: on

24. o-e: mole
-o: no

25. oi: oil
-oy: toy

26. oo (long): food
27. oo (short): good

28. or: order

29. ou: out
-ow: now

30. p: pin (0)
31. r: rug

32. s: sun
-ce: face

33. sh: shop
-tion: ignition

34. t: tap, pet
--te: delicate

35. th (sharp): this
36. th (soft): thing

37. u: up

38. u-e: cute
-ue: cue

39. v: van
-ve: have
-v-: river– no doubling after short vowels

40. w: window
41. y: yak

42. z: zip
-se: rose

43. zh: -si-/-su-: vision, measure

44. Unstressed, unclear variously spelt vowel sound (or schwa),
occurring mainly in 8 endings and 2 prefixes:
-able: loveable
-ccle: bundle
-al: vertical
-ary: ordinary
-en: fasten
-ence: absence
-ent: absent
-er: father

de-: decide
in-: indulge
+ consonant doubling for showing short, stressed vowels
which is used completely unpredictably
merry (regular) – very(missing) – serrated(surplus)
(503 - 601 - 219)

Masha Bell

Mashabell Mon 16-Jun-14 19:03:52

I favour spelling reform because i find it awful and pointless that English-speaking children have to spend much longer on learning to read and write than in all other European languages, but i hav no illusions about reform coming about any time soon. - Most people prefer to put up with the roughly 20% rate of functional illiteracy which affects all English-speaking countries rather than suffer the temporary inconvenience of reform.

Apart from encouraging people to give some thought to making English spelling more learner-friendly, another aim of mine has been to improve understanding of why English literacy acquisition is exceptionally slow and difficult and why overall literacy standards have so far shown no real improvement, despite repeated vast increases in expenditure and changes to teaching methods, and also why it has been difficult to reach agreement on the best way of teaching reading and writing. - It's difficult to reach agreement on the best way of teaching something which makes no logical sense.

Many people have thanked me for the work i have done in this field, but some have thought it a waste of time, especially those who think they have finally discovered a fool-proof way of teaching reading and writing.

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 19:21:02

Most people prefer to put up with the roughly 20% rate of functional illiteracy

Untrue masha, some people prefer to teach all children to read and write

storynanny2 Mon 16-Jun-14 19:24:46

"Most teachers do not have phonics training" - what a strange thing to say.
In my country for instance, all teachers and support staff have had training and have ongoing training. Have you taught everywhere? I wouldn't presume to state "every teacher has phonics training" simply because my county staff have.
Back in the day, we all had phonics training as a matter of course at our "teacher training colleges".

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 19:33:32

I'm not talking about my county storynanny I'm talking about the situation nationally as reported by teachers and student teachers ... are they mistaken when they say they haven't had any real training?

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 19:37:03

"Back in the day, we all had phonics training" out of interest what kind of phonics training did you have?

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 19:41:56

More than half (53 per cent) of teachers reported that they taught systematic synthetic phonics ‘first and fast’ (i.e. they used a systematic synthetic phonics programme as the prime approach to decoding print), although teachers’ responses regarding the use of other methods to teach children to decode words were not wholly consistent with this data .

so nationally half the teachers say they taught SSP but aren't!

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Mon 16-Jun-14 19:45:53

I'd argue that there's 'phonics training' and there's 'good quality phonics training'. The two are probably quite different.

From talking to friends and looking at what is being posted by some teachers on various different forums, I would be surprised if LA training is covering half of what teachers need to know to teach reading effectively. There are parents on this forum that have a better understanding of phonics and reading than lots of teachers I know.

storynanny2 Mon 16-Jun-14 19:46:09

The sort of training as is required to correctly teach phonics to young children! Of course, it probably involved using different terms, eg phonemes was not used as a word in my training, however it must have been good training as I am confident in my phonics teaching ability in 2014.

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 19:50:08

Phonics teaching today is very different to how it was "Back in the day" but many teachers are still teaching as if "back in the day"

storynanny2 Mon 16-Jun-14 19:54:28

But the phonetic code is unchanged, therefore the same sounds are required to be taught and learned. Of course teaching styles and methods change and evolve, that is not what I was saying.

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 20:09:56

What is taught and how it is taught is very different to what was taught "back in the day"

MrsKCastle Mon 16-Jun-14 21:01:11

I have been teaching for 10 years and have never had what I would consider 'good quality' phonics training. On my PGCE they taught the searchlights model. Then, later, I was trained in using Letters and Sounds, but the focus was more on the simple code- as if once you got to the complex code it would just sort of take care of itself.

It was never felt necessary for me to have more than basic phonics training as I have nearly always taught upper ks2. What I have learned has all been through my own reading.

So I would guess there's a lot of other teachers put there like me.


Guilianna Mon 16-Jun-14 21:09:08

Mrz, that' s a great link, thanks. My prob is that colleagues pay lip service to phonics, but say it should be used alongside other methods. Also no one has had up to date training - I agree training and delivery of phonics in schools can be v poor. I'll try!

mrz Mon 16-Jun-14 21:14:28

It isn't teachers who are at fault, many say they have been given a copy of Letters & Sounds and expected to get on with it, other had a couple of hours "training" with a LEA advisor who clearly knew no more than them, some even had a whole session at university hmm

diamondage Mon 16-Jun-14 22:18:23

DD must have been reading this thread and set out to show me how daft my anxieties have been because tonight she read, without batting an eyelid:

crustacean, invertebrates, hydrothermal, cilia and photophore.

Ok they are fairly regular but I was still impressed.

She needed my help with:

investigative (just couldn't get her mouth round it),
radiolarian (she said ar instead of air),
echinoderms (she said ch instead of k)
excruciating (saying /s/ee/ instead of /sh/ee/ mrz am I right to think that in this word the /sh/ is represented by the "c" alone?)
famine (saying igh instead of i)

So all plausible and understandable choices given that none of these words were in her vocabulary. I'm realising perhaps I've done an alright job teaching her phonics after all - perhaps I deserve some cake grin

I have, however, had to Google the following words, so I can tell her the correct pronunciations in the morning:

Paguristes (I can't find a pronunciation for this at all)

I'd love to know if any of you can decode the first two correctly without having to resort to finding out via Google (or any other means) like me.

FinDeSemaine Mon 16-Jun-14 22:30:44

I'd say Teh-row-iss (ow as in snow) and Happa-lock-leener. Maybe liner, depending on whether it's a word that exists in Latin (liner) or one made up by English scientists (leener). Paguristes ought to be pag-your-iss-tays (with a soft y in the second syllable and the ays very lightly pronounced, nearly es).

I haven't contributed to this thread before but I am constantly amazed at how complicated phonics is sometimes assumed to be by those who haven't seen how well children learn with it.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Mon 16-Jun-14 22:59:47

I'm with FindeSemaine on Pterois and Hapalochlaena. I might go for Paj-your-iss-teez for the final one.

I think it does look more complicated as a competent, adult reader being presented with all the information at once. In reality presenting it to a non-reader bit by bit is very different. So you might start with the idea that words are made of sounds and that you can use a single letter to represent those sounds. Then a couple of weeks later you introduce the idea that some sounds can be written more than one way, or can be represented by a group of letters not just a single letter. It's not that different to teaching anything else really. You start with the basics and gradually build on them.

mrz Tue 17-Jun-14 06:31:16

ter oh ees (pt as in pterodactyl) ?

hapa loo ch leena (lo as in to) ?


Mashabell Tue 17-Jun-14 08:51:49

Pterois - [te - ro - is] ?
Hapalochlaena - [appa - lo - cleener] ?
Paguristes - [pa - gu - ristees] ?

In all other alphabetically written languages, we would all know exactly how to pronounce those words.

But the spellings which are chiefly responsible making learning to read and write English exceptionally slow and difficult are not unusual ones like those but ones with variable sounds in common words, the ones that children keep meeting as soon as they start reading even quite simple books, the likes of: go to, so who, on once only...

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Tue 17-Jun-14 08:53:18

Why do I get the feeling those 3 words are going to be added to a list in the near future.

FinDeSemaine Tue 17-Jun-14 09:26:10

In all other alphabetically written languages, we would all know exactly how to pronounce those words.

None of these words are English. The reason I was able to make a good stab at them is because I have been taught languages which gave me the alphabetic code that allowed me to unpick them.

diamondage Tue 17-Jun-14 11:35:30

Yes, the prize goes to FinDeSemaine, (and I'll just trust what you say for Paguristes).

Of course it makes perfect sense because you say you've cracked the relevant alphabetic code (although I'm assuming they're all Latin given that they are species names???).

RafaIsTheKingOfClay - someone could just link to a biology site if they wanted to give phonics proponents a challenge. However these words were all in DDs school reading book and as far as possible I want to be able to demonstrate to her that the code can be cracked.

Looking up how to pronounce something is, imo, no different to looking up a word's meaning in a dictionary. Thinking about it, I don't really understand the idea of teaching children to use context to work out the meaning of a word either. Surely it's better to teach children to use a dictionary? With one method, you may get the answer right, with the other method you definitely will. Using context for word meaning still seems like guessing to me, maybe an educated guess but it's still a guess.

I think accepting that the code can be challenging in no way detracts from the view that synthetic phonics is the best method to teach reading.

Then again, I've seen how rabid and irrational its detractors can become, not to mention the damage caused to a significant amount of children trying to learn via mixed methods, so I understand the desire to ensure that the current direction fully takes hold.

But how is that going to happen if teachers are not being taught phonics thoroughly whilst training? How do you bring around the many teachers who are so fixed in their view that mixed methods are good?

I hope the research mrz linked to is a good start - if it can be shown that children using synthetic phonics are generally two years ahead of peers using mixed methods then perhaps teachers and their trainers will eventually come around.

In the mean time I've learnt even more about our alphabetic code, which can only be a good thing.

FinDeSemaine Tue 17-Jun-14 14:25:19

Anything that starts with pt in English is almost certainly borrowed from Greek. Paguristes looks definitely Latin. Hapalochlaena I wasn't sure about but having now looked it up, it is Greek which definitely makes it leener rather than liner. I should actually have known it was Greek because of the ch which would not exist in Latin.

Mashabell Tue 17-Jun-14 19:18:28

Looking up how to pronounce something is, imo, no different to looking up a word's meaning in a dictionary.

It makes a huge difference to children's ability to learn their own language. It's a little hard to explain, but when u have no doubts about pronunciation, u can learn new words more easily without looking up them up in a dictionary, by simply meeting them a few times in a text. - I did not own a dictionary until the age of 15.

When i was learning Lithuanian, Russian, German, Italian, French and Spanish, i never ever needed to look at guides to pronunciation. I don't know about French, but monolingual dictionaries in the other 5 don't ever have pronunciation guides like English dictionaries.

mrz Tue 17-Jun-14 19:44:19

and yet we have somehow managed very successfully to learn our own language masha

FinDeSemaine Tue 17-Jun-14 20:00:27

When you are taught French as an older child (or Latin or Greek or German, at school), they write the word down and say 'and this is how it is pronounced'. They tell you how the alphabetic code of that language works, just as we do when a child learns to read English.

maizieD Tue 17-Jun-14 20:01:54

To go back a few posts!

I might go for Paj-your-iss-teez for the final one.

The 'g' would only spell a /j/ if it were followed by 'e', 'i' or 'y'

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Tue 17-Jun-14 20:29:55

Good point, maizie, which I should have spotted. You are right, but for some reason, that word is still looking to me like it should have a /j/ and I have no idea why.

mrz Tue 17-Jun-14 20:40:21

I was thinking pag yoo rist eez

FinDeSemaine Tue 17-Jun-14 20:42:57

That is more or less right, mrz.

Rafa, maybe because there is an implied Y sound in the ur?

mrz Tue 17-Jun-14 20:46:11

I confess we were rockpooling yesterday FinDeSemaine grin

FinDeSemaine Tue 17-Jun-14 20:56:35

Then you are quite some way ahead of me. In this case, I am a phonics mad Reception child who can read all those words but has NO IDEA of what they mean as they are not in my vocab!

diamondage Tue 17-Jun-14 21:12:05

The 'g' would only spell a /j/ if it were followed by 'e', 'i' or 'y'

But that's what catches people out with coelacanth, they see a c followed by an o and assume it must be representing /k/, whereas because "oe" represents /ee/ the "c" represents /s/.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Tue 17-Jun-14 21:21:55

I think coelacanth probably counts as a 'tricky word' grin. For Christ's sake don't let masha see it. She'll add it to a long list with those other words you gave last night.

I must admit I only know how to pronounce it due to an obsession with David Attenborough documentaries and the fact that I watch most things with subtitles on.

Hooliesmoolies Tue 17-Jun-14 23:52:29

I must admit, I find phonics hard, but I do see benefits for my child. But I really wish that once the teachers at my DDs school have been effectively trained, they would teach me. I do more reading with my child than anyone else, and I find it hard supporting her in her reading without knowing what I'm doing.

But, I have learnt not to use the magic 'e', and how to explain that (I think), which is a start in the right direction.

Mashabell Wed 18-Jun-14 06:59:58

yet we have somehow managed very successfully to learn our own language
Learning a language is not the same as learning to read one.
Many children start school already speaking English very well but have a hard time learning to read it, and even more to write it.

mrz Wed 18-Jun-14 07:14:24

Perhaps you should look at the schools who manage to teach 100% of their pupils to read and write masha and ask if they can do it why can't everyone

Mashabell Wed 18-Jun-14 07:18:01

In Latin, Greek or German ... They tell you how the alphabetic code of that language works, just as we do when a child learns to read English.

The difference is that in those languages the alphabetic code is phonically completely consistent: eins, zwei, drei... vier, Bier, hier. Once u learn the code, u know exactly how to pronounce those letters in every word u meet, with very, very few exceptions, unlike:
ei in eight, height, ceiling, their or
ie in friend, fiendish, pie, science,
ea in treat, great, threaten,
o in on, only, once, other, woman, women, who,
ou in sound, soup, soul, should, double.....

That's why most children take several years to become proficient readers of English - even with excellent phonics teachers like Mrz - while most other Europeans do so in a few months, or even just a few weeks, e.g. Finns.

maizieD Wed 18-Jun-14 09:30:49

But that's what catches people out with coelacanth,

Coelacanth doesn't have a 'g' in it wink grin

But I know what you mean!

maizieD Wed 18-Jun-14 09:34:46

You might find this site helpful;particularly the charts which show the common spelling alternatives for phonemes.

diamondage Wed 18-Jun-14 11:17:41

mrz while it's true that some schools ensure 100% can read I'm still not sure it's with the same competence as an equivalent 100% from a country with an entirely transparent code.

Do countries with an entirely transparent code ever have adults discussing how a word should be pronounced?

Surely when most children leave our schools, they will still need to look up or be told how to pronounce some words originating from Greek, Latin or French?

Unless you're suggesting that what happens with adults at the moment is purely down to them having been taught with mixed methods, and that children with a thorough understanding of the complex code won't ever need to look up words to discover their pronunciation?

Personally I think our code is too complex for this because it includes phonics from too many different alphabetic codes, so unless you can recognise which country or language a word originates from then you will need help to decode it.

In fact, even this isn't enough, for example take banquet and bouquet. In the former we do not use the French pronunciation, whereas in the latter we do.

Presumably this is because we decided to tweak our own Middle English word banket, to match the spelling banquet but only changed the /k/ to a /kw/.

Whereas bouquet is a wholly French word that we've 'borrowed'.

Knowing that 'et' can be a spelling for either /ay/ or /e/t/ helps me know it is one of the two, however in this case even knowing that the words are typical French spellings doesn't help me know for sure. I have to first learn the pronunciation so that I can then encode the spelling.

I suppose the point is that perhaps most 12 year old children taught a language with an entirely transparent code can literally read (and correctly pronounce) any word in their language.

I don't think the same can be said for most UK 12 year olds. Perhaps most can read banquet and bouquet but that's because they're reasonably common. Nevertheless, unlike their counterpart from a country with a transparent code, I'm sure it would be possible to find some English words that they'd find a challenge to decode without help.

diamondage Wed 18-Jun-14 11:30:56

Coelacanth doesn't have a 'g' in it

Indeed, but the same principal applies for 'c' with respect to the soft rather than hard sound we produce when followed by vowels representing the /e/ee/i/igh/er/.

The tricky part is that 'oe' is representing /ee/ which is a rare or less probable sound for this spelling to represent.

But you already know all that grin

Hooliesmoolies Wed 18-Jun-14 11:39:14

MazieD Thanks for that! It looks really helpful. flowers

Mashabell Wed 18-Jun-14 12:17:44

I suppose the point is that perhaps most 12 year old children taught a language with an entirely transparent code can literally read (and correctly pronounce) any word in their language.

Perhaps not all recently imported words from another language, but otherwise yes. Completely.

In English, many secondary pupils are regularly tripped up by quite common words. Bouquet would make the majority hesitate or stumble. Being asked to take part in reading a play is mortifying for many for this reason.

LittleMissGreen Wed 18-Jun-14 15:06:18

But given that the scientific names are scientific names aren't they the same in every language, so French/Finnish etc children won't be able to pronounce them using their own phonetic code either? Certainly when I worked in a lab with fluent Welsh speakers I could only keep up with some of the conversations was because I could follow the common scientific words.

maizieD Wed 18-Jun-14 15:23:56

You really, really like to get to the bottom of things don't you, Diamondagegrin

I don't think that the pronunciation aspect is such a compelling one when you consider the enormous variation in the pronunciation of words among English speakers world wide. Even UK wide. As a southerner I could tell Northerners until I was blue in the face that 'grass' is pronounced 'grarss' but it wouldn't change the fact that they pronounce it with a 'short' 'a'. The very essential point is that we can all read the word 'grass' and get to its meaning of a plant with sword shaped long green leaves which has a multiplicity of forms and uses. People can read a word and mentally mispronounce it for years without it affecting the fact that they know what it means (though it may cause a bit of embarrassment when you find you've been pronouncing it wrongly all that time...) and can understand it correctly when read and use it correctly in writing.

I agree that with some words, coelacanth, bouquet etc. you may have to be 'told' how to pronounce them at some time, but is this an insuperable problem for competent readers? You get to know the correct pronunciation and use it from then on; it really isn't a problem. And somehow you manage to remember all those odd correspondences, as will most children who have learned to read and are extending their vocabularies.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that we never stop learning and encountering new words and that we are quite able to take them in our stride. (Which is why I get a bit cross with objectors to the Phonics check who say that 'good readers' are thrown by the nonsense words; as if 6 year olds know every single word in the English Language already and don't need to learn anything new!)

maizieD Wed 18-Jun-14 15:27:59

But given that the scientific names are scientific names aren't they the same in every language, so French/Finnish etc children won't be able to pronounce them using their own phonetic code either?

Interesting point! I wonder if the pronunciation of these words does vary a bit, anyway, according to the nationality of the speaker?

Bonsoir Wed 18-Jun-14 15:48:30

Latin when spoken by a French person does not sound the same as when it is spoken by an English person!

Mashabell Wed 18-Jun-14 15:50:26

'Phospate' is 'fostfat' in German, with the /a/ sound of ask, task, mask of S England, rather than 'fosfait'.

In the 16th C printers stuck -e endings on many words in English, irrespective of need and undermined the vowel-lengthening role of -e, e.g. gave, have; survive relative.

English changed the pronunciation of many imports too, but sometimes without changing the spelling (couple, double), as used to the case with earlier imports from French (bataille - battle; boeuf - beef).

That's what u get when there is no authority of any kind whatsoever to keep an eye on things and spellings are allowed to 'evolve' according to the whims of printers and dictionary makers.

mrz Wed 18-Jun-14 17:43:05

diamondage I'm sure that children from countries with transparent code have to look up the pronounciation of words that enter their language from other sources as frequently happens as the world is shrinking thanks to technology

mrz Wed 18-Jun-14 17:47:20

banquet and bouquet are both borrowed French words

FinDeSemaine Wed 18-Jun-14 19:54:40

There are a couple of schemes of Latin pronunciation in currency, interestingly. One is the old version, used in churches in England in the past and strongly related to Italian pronunciation. The other is the newer version based on texts that were intended to teach Latin to foreigners, complete with pronunciation guide (stuff like V should be pronounced like a breath of wind). Lots of differences - eg hard v in the old version and w in the new version for a V. Veni vidi vici is generally Vainy Veedy Veechy in the old version and Wainy Weedy Weaky in the new.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Wed 18-Jun-14 20:20:50

Roughly how new is the newer version? I do remember the fact that ecclesiastical Latin has a different pronunciation being pointed out at school, but I don't really remember ever hearing 'Wainy, Weedy, Weaky' as a pronunciation for veni, vidi, vici.

Having said that, we didn't do an awful lot of spoken Latin at all. It was mainly written translations from Latin to English or vice versa, so most of the Latin I've heard spoken has come from hymns/antiphons etc at church, which will have been ecclesiastial.

FinDeSemaine Wed 18-Jun-14 20:38:05

I learnt Latin in the mid-eighties and I think the new pronunciation was coming in around then (I was 11 so I can't remember the details but it was certainly presented as something new and interesting - not sure how new is new for a classical scholar). Unusually, we were taught to actually speak Latin and spent a lot of time in class actually talking. Our teacher rarely addressed us in English.

FinDeSemaine Wed 18-Jun-14 20:43:48

Googling, it seems it came in a long time before that! I turned up something where Winston Churchill was complaining about the classical pronunciation (new version).

diamondage Wed 18-Jun-14 20:48:11

You really, really like to get to the bottom of things don't you, Diamondage
blush Ah, well, yes I can get a tad inquisatorial when I want to understand something I've become obsessed passionate about. I also rather like things to make sense, in a logical way, and I could never ever understand spellings at all (thank you look and say). Since teaching DD2 to read, however, I know there's a system, albeit a complex one.

perhaps not all recently imported words from another language
Good point masha!

Also all those pointing out that not everyone pronounces Latin words etc. in the same way is right - I was reading a paper introducing Greek and Latin medical terms with pronunciations and it was written by Hungarians who showed the various ways the words were sounded out in Hungarian and English. I suspect that languages with a transparent code just say the words following their own code, which makes their lives so simple!

I like to pronounce words correctly for my accent, so knowing how to correctly pronounce a word is important to me. Bouquet is never bucket, whatever your accent!

The spelling for banquet is French, but not the pronunciation (I checked, the French end it with /ay/ just like bouquet), the way we pronounce it more closely resembles the middle English word banket, which has a similar meaning.

SoundsWrite Wed 18-Jun-14 20:56:39

Very interesting discussion! But diamondage, if your child can read those words, she ain't got a problem. I can think of many an adult who might just have problems with some of them. And, surely, one or two are a question of accent: 'radiolarian' could easily be /ar/ or /air/, though with the sound /r/ pronounced because it is followed by a vowel sound.
All I'd be thinking about here is clearly defined strategies for spelling the words and meaning (of course).
Oh, and enter her for the Spelling Bee in the states next year! smile

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Wed 18-Jun-14 21:22:52

I was assuming 'new' would have a fairly broad definition when talking about Latin. grin I do have a vague recollection of discussing the different pronunciations of the 'v' in Venite. Possibly in the context of Adeste Fideles.

FinDeSemaine Wed 18-Jun-14 22:09:41

Yes, in this case it seems 'new' was anything in the last fifty or a hundred years! Bless. I remember my fairly ancient Latin teacher imparting the v pronounced like a breath of wind thing as though it had been discovered yesterday. I suppose in her terms it was more or less yesterday. Anyway, the classical pronunciation is more akin to what Latin would have sounded like as a living language and the church pronunciation is what we were all doing when Latin was a posh leftover from another era.

maizieD Wed 18-Jun-14 22:41:47

but I don't really remember ever hearing 'Wainy, Weedy, Weaky' as a pronunciation for veni, vidi, vici.

Ah, you've never read '1066 and All That' (written in 1930s, I think). They said that the Romans summed up the British in 3 words; weany, weedy & weaky grin

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Wed 18-Jun-14 23:15:52

There appears to be a bit of a gap in the selection of British history books on my bookshelf/Kindle. Although I have heard that quote now I come to think of it. I may have to go and pay off the library fine and see if they have a copy I can borrrow.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now