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Inner-city five-year-olds whose first language is not English learn to read and spell much faster if they have intensive training in "phonological awareness" - learning to recognise the sounds in spoken and written words.

More than 100 such five-year-olds were divided into two groups for three months. The teaching of the experimental group concentrated exclusively on phonogical awareness and learning how speech sounds relate to written letters while the teaching of the control group used Big Books, and combined work on phonemes with reading in a context. Despite the restrictive nature of the phonologically based work, the experimental group galloped ahead, gaining 10 months i their reading age and 11 months in spelling age by the end of Year 1, although no further work had been done with them.

The study shows that early introduction of this approach, carried out through structured, focused and rapid teaching as a whole-class activity, accelerates the rate at which second language learners acquire and sustain the skills and knowledge they need to read and write.

Getting ready for reading: Early phoneme awareness and phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner-city second language learners by Dr Morag Stuart, Psychology and Special Needs Unit, Institute of Education, London University, 25 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA.

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