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Teaching phonics to an Amercian

Discussion in 'Special educational needs' started by Nijinski, Mar 5, 2011.

  1. How does one teach British phonics to an American speaker? Is this a very silly question?
    I've just started supporting a 10 year old who has been in England since September. A very bright, motivated pupil, high achieving in maths, but struggling with reading and spelling. We've held off from assessing her until now to give her time to adjust to a British school, but I've now run several diagnostic tests on her, including several looking at phonological skills. Because her scores were so low on these tests I've specifically used the CTOPPS, which has American pronunciation and US norms. She is still scoring low, which indicates to me that her phonological skills are not well developed, even by US standards (her mother tells me phonics is not so widely used in US schools, and she was taught to read largely by visual, whole word methods). I am specifically not going any further down the dyslexia-diagnosis route at the moment, but have decided to give her some training in phonics and phonological skills and see whether that improves things.
    However - I've got a problem with how to teach vowel sounds. I usually start with the basics of short and long vowel sounds, leading to open and closed syllables, which leads to word attack strategies for decoding longer words, and spelling rules when adding suffixes ... i.e. an understanding of short and long vowel sounds is pretty basic. But this girl's pronunciation does not include a short vowel /a/ - it's much longer nearer in sound to a British long /a/. And then there's her /o/ and /u/ sounds, which are less distinguishable from each other than with (standard) British pronunciation ... and lots more differences.
    So I'm temporarily stumped. Any suggestions as to what I should do? Change my whole approach? Teach her to hear the differences between her own vowel sounds if not the British ones?
    Working in the south of England I haven't really come across this issue with other pupils, whose pronunciation mostly doesn't differ widely from standard English, but I guess I could have the same issue if I was teaching someone with a regional pronunciation which differs from standard English in terms of vowel sounds. I can imagine that phonics teaching in Scotland, for example, takes account of Scottish pronunciation, but what would happen if you had several speakers of widely different pronunciations in one class?
    I think I'm in a muddle here - can anyone sort me out, please?

     
  2. How does one teach British phonics to an American speaker? Is this a very silly question?
    I've just started supporting a 10 year old who has been in England since September. A very bright, motivated pupil, high achieving in maths, but struggling with reading and spelling. We've held off from assessing her until now to give her time to adjust to a British school, but I've now run several diagnostic tests on her, including several looking at phonological skills. Because her scores were so low on these tests I've specifically used the CTOPPS, which has American pronunciation and US norms. She is still scoring low, which indicates to me that her phonological skills are not well developed, even by US standards (her mother tells me phonics is not so widely used in US schools, and she was taught to read largely by visual, whole word methods). I am specifically not going any further down the dyslexia-diagnosis route at the moment, but have decided to give her some training in phonics and phonological skills and see whether that improves things.
    However - I've got a problem with how to teach vowel sounds. I usually start with the basics of short and long vowel sounds, leading to open and closed syllables, which leads to word attack strategies for decoding longer words, and spelling rules when adding suffixes ... i.e. an understanding of short and long vowel sounds is pretty basic. But this girl's pronunciation does not include a short vowel /a/ - it's much longer nearer in sound to a British long /a/. And then there's her /o/ and /u/ sounds, which are less distinguishable from each other than with (standard) British pronunciation ... and lots more differences.
    So I'm temporarily stumped. Any suggestions as to what I should do? Change my whole approach? Teach her to hear the differences between her own vowel sounds if not the British ones?
    Working in the south of England I haven't really come across this issue with other pupils, whose pronunciation mostly doesn't differ widely from standard English, but I guess I could have the same issue if I was teaching someone with a regional pronunciation which differs from standard English in terms of vowel sounds. I can imagine that phonics teaching in Scotland, for example, takes account of Scottish pronunciation, but what would happen if you had several speakers of widely different pronunciations in one class?
    I think I'm in a muddle here - can anyone sort me out, please?

     
  3. Have a look at this Canadian programme: Stairway to Reading: Free, online, remedial tutoring program Registration needed: www.societyforqualityeducation.org/stairway.html

    A one-on-one remedial reading program for students of any
    age who have already received some reading instruction but
    who are struggling with reading.The materials are based on a N. American accent.
     
  4. languageisheartosay

    languageisheartosay Occasional commenter

    I'm sure the Canadian programme will help. The States is a big place - there are certainly many efforts to use phonics in some parts of it!
    Especially by 10y a child should be able to use context a lot so, even if your pronunciation doesn't match hers, she will learn to match up what you're saying to how she says it as long as you put spellings etc. in a context. Even across London you may find children who interpret single words in different ways and short vowels are particularly tricky (i versus e and a versus u) but once the word is in a sentence everyone can guess what it is. I think it is sometimes easier to skip the short vowels and start with long ones which are less likely to be muddled and - obviously - seem to last longer!
    A standard way of working with children who can't pronounce the different sounds of speech is to use minimal pairs (which vary by one phoneme, not one letter). E.g. does her pronunciation of MAX versus MARKS show up a difference? It takes some doing but finding even short lists of words to demonstrate difference will provide ear-training and hopefully improve phonic awareness. (If you can find some pairs like this and want some ideas of wordlists, you can PM me for ideas if you like).
     
  5. Wherever teachers teach phonics they may need to do some adaptations for local accents. It is part of the teaching to be able to demonstrate some of the differences in pronunciation, "In our region/country, mostly we pronounce that grapheme like this......; in contrast ...... most people pronounce that grapheme like this......".
    For reading purposes, this should not present too big a problem because the sounding out and blending of sounds to 'discern' the word often involves a slight tweak, or modification, of pronunciation.
    You can engage with the learner during phonics teaching to demonstrate and talk about how various graphemes might broadly be pronounced in an 'English' accent compared to the 'American accent'. But it does not have to be a big deal.
    Equally, for spelling purposes, the learner will orally segment various words with different vowel sounds, but these will still tally to certain letters or letter groups.
    I did make some slight modifications of the alphabetic code chart that I produced for general use for the North American and Canadian user. These versions may well suit the Irish or Scottish accent better than my original charts.
    However, these charts are paper-based as they are printable, which means anyone using them could write on them and adapt the chart according to their regional needs.
    It is the explanation of the teacher which is the key part to the teaching and learning. The processes of blending printed words and orally segmenting spoken words and allotting the identified sounds various graphemes still amounts to the same core skills.
    All the alphabetic code charts are free.
    http://www.phonicsinternational.com/USA_Canadian_Resources.html
    See unit 1 via the www.phonicsinternational.com homepage for alternative alphabetic code charts.

     
  6. Thanks very much for these replies, and to Debbie for the links. I will look at those today - I currently use your British version so it's good to know you've got a US version.
    My original question (although badly worded) was, really, how do you teach short vowel sounds to someone who does not have 'short' vowel sounds in their speech - this pupil has particularly long-drawn-out vowels in words like 'cat', 'pen', so to approach the vowel sounds from the point of view of short versus long sounds obviously isn't appropriate here.
    I am learning all the time, so thanks again for all the help.
     
  7. languageisheartosay

    languageisheartosay Occasional commenter

    I did try to address this very point before! However the child pronounces these words, surely there is a difference? Does she say 'cat' and 'cart' exactly the same? Or 'pen' and 'pain'. Usually if you listen hard you can detect the change pattern even if it doesn't exactly match your own. Then you can link the pronunciation (phoneme) to the writing (grapheme).
     
  8. Yes, thank you - I meant to say that sounded excellent advice. My sticking point is still with the terms short and long, though - in standard English pronunciation there is a difference in length as well as in place of articulation for the short vowel sounds (eg /a/ in 'mat') versus the longer (diphthong) sounds (of /a/ in 'mate'). My pupils' pronunciation differs in point of articulation but not in length for these 2 words. So I'm coming to realise that I need to rethink my terminology and explanations of 'short' and 'long' vowel sounds, which have worked very well when teaching standard English speakers, but are not appropriate with this pupil.
    Sorry to labour this point - your comments are very helpful and I will certainly use your suggestions of minimal pairs of sounds when practising discriminating between sounds. I just need to rethink my explanations of short and long vowels as they relate to spelling rules now.
     
  9. I think this is very simple really.
    Just keep talking these things through with the pupil. Explain how, in England, people tend to say /a/ as in apple, and not a longer sound as the pupil does.
    Discuss the differences - this will make interesting conversation.
    You can then spend some time having fun with the differences, for example.
    Point to printed words where you know that we teach the vowel as our 'short vowel' version, and 'discover together' how the pupil pronounces the vowel. Then say each vowel sound discretely to see if the difference can be detected.
    But I don't think it even matters if there isn't this amazing capacity to detect the differences.
    As long as the pupil is enabled to sound out discrete letters and letter groups to be able to 'discern' the word for reading - and is able to orally segment spoken words to identify the sounds and then allot graphemes for those sounds, then that is fine.
    In terms of terminology, you can say, 'Normally, teachers often refer to the terms 'short vowel sounds' and 'long vowel sounds' for certain sounds but this may not seem so pertinent sometimes for teaching the alphabetic code.
    You could always teach exactly how you would for an English-speaking pupil and then say, "And how would you pronounce that word with your accent?" In other words, press ahead regardless but just ADD the bits of conversation about accent differences rather than worrying overly much about your terminology.
     

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