SOUND it out!

[2 years +]

Most children learn the names of the letters before the sounds that they make.  But is it really that helpful to know the names of letters when learning to read and write?

As a speech pathologist, my role in literacy is to promote pre-literacy skills such as book reading and churning out nursery rhymes but also ‘phonological awareness’, being aware of sounds in words.  Research shows any child with good phonological awareness skills entering school will succeed in learning to read and write.  But this has nothing to do with the names of letters!

When you think about it, knowing the names of the letters doesn’t get you much further than being able to spell out a word aloud to someone else (You spell it ‘A-I-M-E-E’).  This is definitely useful down the track, but not at the start of literacy learning.

What do you need to know to:

  • Sound out words (reading) : A child needs to be able to decode each letter into a sound (eg. ‘hot’ – h= ‘hh’, o=’oh’, t=’tt’) and then put those sounds together and say them into a word.  It’s not simple and the child needs to be good at decoding the letters into sounds and putting sounds together to make a word (either aloud or in their head)
  • Spell a word (writing it down) : Break the word into sounds in their head and translate each to a letter, before writing them (as above. ‘hot’ – ‘hh’=h, ‘oh’=o, ‘tt’=t).  This is not simple either!!!

But one skill you don’t need, is to know the names of the letters…  If you only know the names of the letters, you can only say ‘H-O-T’ when looking at the word, which gets you no closer to decoding what the word actually says.

A teacher I once knew actually only ever talked about the sounds of the letters in the first year of school and then introduced the names of the letters in the second year.  In the real world, most children will learn the names of the letters by osmosis anyway, but it can be helpful to put more of a focus onto the sound each letter makes.  This is particularly so for any child that seems as though they might find literacy a challenge, as learning the name and sound of a letter is just more memorising for them that puts extra load on the brain when it comes time to read and spell.

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