The Importance of Recognizing Pronunciation Patterns in English
English orthography is far from transparent. Developed during the 7th century, it has grown complex from being influenced by different dialects and languages over the years. The English language has adopted a lot of words from other languages and, until today, there hasn’t been any spelling reform implemented. As a result, there are letters that are pronounced differently, depending on their place within the word or their proximity to other letters. The importance of learning the rules for the different sounds lies in the fact that written words represent spoken words, and comprehension depends on correct pronunciation of the written words.
Soft (Basic) Sounds and Hard Sounds
Let’s take the letters C and G, which both have a soft and a hard sound, reflecting English’s Latin-based roots. Hard C sounds like /k/ and soft C sounds like /s/, while hard G sounds like /g/ and soft G sounds like /j/. Therefore, knowing the patterns which predict when the sound is hard and when it is soft is a must in order to comprehend the text.
In the word CAT, for example, we need to know that when C is followed by the letter A, it is a hard sound and, therefore, pronounced like /k/— thus, we read it as /kat/. Not knowing this particular rule could confuse the reader into thinking that C should be pronounced with the soft sound /s/. He or she would read CAT as the word /sat/, leading to a completely different meaning of the text.
The same happens with the word GOT. The rule says that when G is followed by O, it is pronounced with the hard sound /g/ and, therefore, is read as /got/. As with the earlier example, if we pronounce the letter G with the soft sound /j/, we will erroneously get /jot/, a completely different word.
One Letter, Various Pronunciations
The letter Y has three different sounds, depending on where it is placed within the word, and even on the combination of letters used in the word. In the word YELLOW, as the initial letter, Y sounds like /ye/. On the other hand, in the word BABY, Y as the last letter sounds like /ee/. But there are some words like FLY and SKY, categorized as CCV words (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant), where Y sounds like /uy/.
Another pronunciation pattern deals with the consonant combinations CH, SH, TH, and PH. The letters C, S, T and P each has its own sound, but when it is combined with the letter H we get a completely different sound, known as a digraph. As such, CAT sounds different from CHAT, TAT is not the same as THAT, and so on.
Short and Long Vowel Sounds
When a vowel comes between two consonants in a three-letter word, the vowel sound is a short sound. For instance: MAT. When a letter E is added to the end of the word ( as in MATE), the pronunciation pattern changes.
In words that end with letter E, the silent E rule applies. This dictates that the vowel sound changes from short to long and that the letter E at the end of the word shouldn’t be pronounced. For example: the word BITE ends with a letter E that is not pronounced and the vowel I becomes long, as opposed to the word BIT where the vowel sound is short. To teach a child about long vowel sounds, you could just explain that a long vowel sound “says” the name of the letter; thus the long vowel sound of /a/ is /ei/. Systematic practice of this rule enables rapid distinction between words with short vowel sounds and words with long vowel sounds. This is crucial for automatic reading.
Phonics Reading Programs
Knowing the English alphabet is only the first part of reading instruction. Learning and practicing all the reading rules that serve as an anchor for automatic readers is no less important, and the goal should be to become familiar with these as early as possible. They are crucial in helping readers make correct and quick choices when reading a text. The EasyPhonics™ reading program teaches all of these important pronunciation patterns through comprehensive lessons, repetition, full multi-sensory exercises and fun games. In the end, children will learn all the rules through consistent practice and having fun.
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