Children should be taught how English language works first, say researchers

Daily Echo: Children should be taught how English language works first, say researchers Children should be taught how English language works first, say researchers

Children would find it easier to learn to read and write if they were first taught how the English language works and what words mean rather than trying to sound out words, according Hampshire researchers.

Psychologists at the University of Portsmouth found that phonics, the common way of teaching literacy skills, was holding youngsters back.

Dr Victoria Devonshire, of the Department of Psychology, trialled a new method of teaching reading and writing with 120 children aged five to seven and found the average reading age increased by 14 months after just six months.

She said: ''We were surprised at how compelling the results were.

''When children were taught to understand why English works the way it does, we saw a leap in their ability to learn to read and write.

''The written word is about conveying meaning, not the sound of speech.

''Expecting children to just figure out the rules of our language is worryingly common and it isn't helping them become as proficient and confident as young children in many other languages.''

Dr Devonshire said teaching how the language was structured helped with children's understanding and gave them a ''huge boost'' in terms of their reading, writing and spelling abilities.

She said the new technique, called morphology, teaches children about the meaning and sources of words, which is more consistent than phonics, which focuses on pronunciation.

She gave the example of the words ''saying'', ''said'' and ''says'', which all have the root word of ''say''.

She said: ''Phonics is important and can be used to spell base or root words but you need to know about morphology to identify that part of the word.

''I'm not saying abandon phonics, I'm saying give the other elements the attention they need from the beginning of their formal literacy education, at the age of five years, to make sense of how our language works.

''Phonics is the most common method of teaching children to read and write. It is used in many countries and in many languages.

''It works well for children whose languages have a very close relationship between letters and sounds, including Finnish, Italian, Greek and Spanish but, according to the study, it is not helping children learn English.''

Dr Devonshire, whose research is published in the journal Learning And Instruction, said the problem for those learning English was that it had many rules and exceptions, with many letters not always being pronounced in the same way.

She said: ''About half of all the words in English are exceptions to the rules of phonics.

''English spelling has consistent rules but the way we pronounce words is inconsistent.

''That makes it hard for children taught using phonics - of course they will take longer to catch up with their European peers whose languages have consistent rules.''

Comments (4)

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7:32pm Wed 16 Jan 13

Linesman says...

What's new?

The example given is the way that I was taught many moons ago.
What's new? The example given is the way that I was taught many moons ago. Linesman
  • Score: 0

7:50pm Wed 16 Jan 13

Huffter says...

Perhaps it could be applied to reporters of the Southern Daily Echo.
Perhaps it could be applied to reporters of the Southern Daily Echo. Huffter
  • Score: 0

6:32pm Fri 18 Jan 13

Crossley Place Saint says...

Ah, she means that children should be taught GRAMMAR. Absolutely right.
Ah, she means that children should be taught GRAMMAR. Absolutely right. Crossley Place Saint
  • Score: 0

9:11am Sun 20 Jan 13

Masha Bell says...

When reading and writing are given more attention, as with any research project, results always improve for a while. The problem with learning to read and write English is that it needs sustained, intense attention and lots of rote-learning over many years. Many children are simply not capable of that.

Learning to read is not quite so bad, because with a reasonable command of the language context can help children to decode letters with variable sounds, like the o in 'on - only, once, other'.

Learning to spell is a far bigger challenge and takes much longer because at least 3,700 common English words contain one or more completely unpredictable quirks (e.g. speech - speak, seek, shriek, eke..) -http://englishspell
ingproblems.blogspot
.com/2010/11/english
-spelling-rules.html which simply have to be memorised word-by-word.

For as long as that list of words with unpredictable irregular spellings remains as long as it is, there will always be lots of children and adults who never learn to spell well. There will also be endless debates about how best to teach reading and writing, with new magic cures being proffered on a regular basis, and regularly disappointing too.

If there ever comes a time when the majority become interested in enabling the minority who get defeated by the exceptions to the English spelling system, things could easily change. If there ever develops more of desire to enable children who have learning difficulties or don't get much educational help from their parents, to learn to read and write reasonably well too, and to benefit a bit more from their 11 years in compulsory schooling, then there will be a serious re-examination of current English spelling habits, with a view to making them more learner-friendly, which would be very easy to do. Sadly, I can't see that happening in the foreseeable future.

The people who would have to get this off the ground mostly had little difficulty learning to read and write. They are able to give their children the necessary help, or can pay for it. So why should they bother? They would not want every Tom, Dick and Sally to spell as well as they can and lose their superior status. – What they don’t realise is that English spelling inconsistencies incur high costs for them too.
Masha Bell
Independent literacy researcher
Wareham, Dorst
When reading and writing are given more attention, as with any research project, results always improve for a while. The problem with learning to read and write English is that it needs sustained, intense attention and lots of rote-learning over many years. Many children are simply not capable of that. Learning to read is not quite so bad, because with a reasonable command of the language context can help children to decode letters with variable sounds, like the o in 'on - only, once, other'. Learning to spell is a far bigger challenge and takes much longer because at least 3,700 common English words contain one or more completely unpredictable quirks (e.g. speech - speak, seek, shriek, eke..) -http://englishspell ingproblems.blogspot .com/2010/11/english -spelling-rules.html which simply have to be memorised word-by-word. For as long as that list of words with unpredictable irregular spellings remains as long as it is, there will always be lots of children and adults who never learn to spell well. There will also be endless debates about how best to teach reading and writing, with new magic cures being proffered on a regular basis, and regularly disappointing too. If there ever comes a time when the majority become interested in enabling the minority who get defeated by the exceptions to the English spelling system, things could easily change. If there ever develops more of desire to enable children who have learning difficulties or don't get much educational help from their parents, to learn to read and write reasonably well too, and to benefit a bit more from their 11 years in compulsory schooling, then there will be a serious re-examination of current English spelling habits, with a view to making them more learner-friendly, which would be very easy to do. Sadly, I can't see that happening in the foreseeable future. The people who would have to get this off the ground mostly had little difficulty learning to read and write. They are able to give their children the necessary help, or can pay for it. So why should they bother? They would not want every Tom, Dick and Sally to spell as well as they can and lose their superior status. – What they don’t realise is that English spelling inconsistencies incur high costs for them too. Masha Bell Independent literacy researcher Wareham, Dorst Masha Bell
  • Score: 0

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