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Letters extra: sounds likely

Graham Frater ("Keep reading real", January 25) is right to point out that "Had fluent and accurate reading ever depended on being able to define 'phonemes', the whole nation would have been illiterate before 1923, when the term was adopted."

The National Literacy Strategy has been right to emphasise phonics but wrong in its over-emphasis on technicalities rather than on the practical skills needed for reading and spelling. What beginners need for reading is to learn to produce sounds for letters, quickly and automatically; what they need for spelling is to learn to write down letters for sounds.

This is how I was taught at primary school in the 1940s. The term "sound" was perfectly adequate and terms such as "phoneme" were never used. In the past 15 years or so, I have gained much more technical knowledge about phonemes, but this has resulted in no further improvement in my reading and spelling, skills which were well in place about 50 years ago.

Graham Frater may also be right that "phonological awareness" can result from "hearing, sharing and discussing books and stories with pleasure and engagement", but I think the way I was taught was quicker because it allowed the phonological skills needed for reading and spelling to be acquired quickly and then to sink into one's subconsciousness, which is where they belong if one is to read for pleasure and write without too much effort.

If the NLS concentrated on teaching practical phonics to beginners, children would know virtually all they needed to know about phonology-for-literacy by the end of Key Stage 1, as indeed happens in schools which use a simpler and more practical phonics approach than the NLS. By Key Stage 3 children's reading and spelling should be beyond the point where further work on phonemes might improve them.

Jennifer Chew
Egham ,

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