Accents – Phonemic awareness & Phonics

Because the English language is so rich and diverse it is very difficult to create a phonics system that caters for all. Every region that speaks the English language has its own accent which means there are always variations in the way that a word is pronounced.

Across England we all spell words the same but we certainly do not say them all the same, even though we all use the same 44 sounds. In the English language the 44 sounds can be represented by over 280 letter combinations.

So, accents have arisen from regions applying different phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters) when they pronounce words. The regions still use the same sounds and letters, they just associate them differently.

For example, in the South of England the letter ‘a’ can be pronounced as the ‘long ’R’ controlled’ vowel sound /ar,(ɑː)/ in words such as ‘grass’ and ‘bath’ whereas in the North of England it will be pronounced as the ‘short’ vowel /a,(æ)/ sound in these two words.

Click and then scroll down the page to see the animations of the different pronunciations of the word ‘bath’.

Both pronunciations are correct, which can make teaching phonics a little tricky; the key is to teach the sound to letter relationships which best suit the children being taught in relation to their regional accent. It is important to remember that children’s knowledge of the sounds that make words is based on how you speak to them naturally and not a strict standardized set of sounds.

However, for general educational and learning purposes the English language’s phonics system has been standardized, this is known as the ‘Received Pronounced’ (RP) English, and is used in comprehensive English dictionaries and translation dictionaries. The RP is based on a southern accent sound to letter relationship basis.

Letter & Sound Relationships That Break the #Phonics Rules

Back in September we explained that Phonics is very useful as a decoding tool used for developing reading skills and an encoding tool for spelling. It is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phonemes) to letter combinations (graphemes) there are.

Some letter and sound associations just don’t follow the normal phonics rule of a single sound being associated to a letter or letter combination. A few letters represent two sounds, such as the letter ‘u’ which in the word ‘cupid’ represents the two sounds /y,(j)/ and /oo,(uː)/.

A more common one letter two sound relation is that of the letter ‘x’ representing the two sounds /k,(k)/ and /s,(s)/ as in thewords: six and box.

making one sound:

What is Phonics?

With the new school year under way some of you will have been introduced to phonics for the first time. Phonics is a very useful decoding tool used for developing reading skills and as an encoding tool for spelling.

Phonics is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phoneme) to letter (grapheme) combinations there are. So, to be good at phonics a child needs to know the 44 sounds and numerous letter and letter combinations of English and then learn the associations between the two.

Children can communicate orally from an early age; it is when they move to the written word that they need to learn how to decode text, to turn the letters into words they already know.  

Using phonics knowledge for reading entails:

  1. Identify the letter or letter combination, in a word, that represent a sound
  2. Associate the letter or letter combination to one of the 44 sounds
  3. Blend each of the sounds together to form the word
  4. Recognise the now oral word to extract its meaning

The theory supporting the teaching of reading using phonics, especially synthetic phonics, is that if a child can decode a word by associating individual sounds to a letter or combination of letters they will then be able to blend those sounds together to form and say the word.

Once a word has been spoken they will extract its meaning by using their far more extensive spoken language comprehension. Children are therefore using the same mental processes to understand written text and speech.