'Sounding out' not so simple

21st June 1996 at 01:00
Estelle Ann Lewin says "provided that the child knows the most common way of sounding out letters like d i and g, she will be able to pronounce regular words like 'dig'" (Letters, TES, June 7).

This is not true - with many pupils much teaching, sometimes taking years, is needed in the stage between knowing the most common way of sounding out letters and reading regular words.

The common way of sounding out letters - or rather sounding out consonants - is to pronounce consonant plus vowel, the vowel used usually being written "er" or "uh". This is the most common vowel in the language - and recognised as such in the Initial Teaching Alphabet and THRASS - the vowel in father, sugar . . . It seems it's so common and weak in its nature that teachers barely notice it when sounding out consonants. Pupils, listening to what is sounded, are often confused.

It is possible to produce some consonant sounds in isolation (most easily the voiceless continuants - "s", "sh", "f") without adding the extra vowel (eg "sss"). This certainly cannot be done with "d" and "g"; an extra vowel must be added which does not occur in continuous speech. Evidence is needed before such confident pronouncements as Lewin's can be made about phonic methods of teaching reading. If only it were so simple!

JOHN ASHBROOK 19 Victoria Avenue Didsbury, Manchester

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