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Teaching the alphabet as sounds 
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Joined: Wed Jan 24, 2007 8:57 pm
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This is an analogy of the teaching philosophy that works for me.
If you were to teach the word, "leg" for the first time, you wouldn't hide the rest of the body and you certainly wouldn't choose an animal the child has never seen. You would use an animal the child has seen a number of times in movement. This would give the child enough information to help understand and remember the concept "leg". To help reinforce this you would show him six-legged insects and help him see the differences between legs and arms.

I think this works in language as well. Although you definitely can, it just seems like a lot more work to start with the written symbols and work your way up. Showing a child a picture of an apple, a word he has yet to learn the English for, say a,a, apple, there is little background information to help the child understand what he is supposed to learn.

Now if you give him an apple, let him play with the apple, say the word "apple" enough times for him to learn it, you can then introduce the sound.
But as we all know, he is not going to get it after hearing it once. You can show him the apple and try to get him to associate it with the short vowel sound. You could use cards and drills and games. However what happens when you show him the word cat? or how about "ape"?

Again what works for me in my situation, is to show them a picture of say a cat with the letters underneath, pronounce each letter slowly and ask which letter has the "a' sound. Sound truly amazed when they get this right. They will not get it this time either. But if you continue to get them to notice the sounds of words they are familiar with and constantly provide them with the correct pronunciation, they will start to see a pattern. Understanding the pattern is not a matter of being told what it is, it is about discovery. This will happen at different times for different students. The trick is for the teacher to get them to notice it. After awhile, then start ask them about the 'ay' sounds, or better yet, wait for them to ask you.

For getting them to hear the sounds, I have used the BINGO tune with
a e i o u , singing the short vowel sounds. After hearing it a number of times they start to sing it on their own (adults often have a harder time then young children...) With older students I would give them hints of how the mouth is formed, (example: the a has a little corner, which reminds you to pull back the corners of your mouth. or open your mouth like an O to pronounce the short o etc.

I definitely don't see my students enough to go through the entire alphabet and introduce all the sound combinations. I try to introduce as many as I can using tricks like mnemonics. I have been trying to include the written words when I can with my 5th and 6th grade students and try to point out the letters and sounds. No, they won't be fluent readers but the will be on the right track after they start to notice patterns.

Going back to my analogy, eventually the child will draw a leg. However this will be after he has seen the animal, has an idea of what a leg does.

Eventually they will have to know the names of the alphabet. I think this would come naturally when you teach them to write. There will come a time when they will need to practice writing but at least in my experience, it's just seems easier AFTER they understand what it is it is supposed to represent.

whew this was much longer than I expected.... apologizes for a long-winded response....


Thu Jul 12, 2007 11:26 pm
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Joined: Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:07 pm
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As a kid in Scotland we learned phonics first, but not this "aaa says apple guff", just practicing out the sounds. These were then combined to make consonant clusters eg tr and dipthongs eg ai. All this was combined with whole word recognition with basic vocabulary. For years Scottish literacy was fairly high and well regarded (though pronunciation maybe leaves a lot to be desired if you've ever spoken with an Aberdonian or Fifer!!)

Mustve been around the 80's when some tube ababndoned this system and we have two or three generations struggling with basics. I read that late last year they decided to go back to the old way. If it izny broke....

Phonics definitely they way forward in Japan.


Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:15 pm
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MES-Zealot!

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Quote:
Phonics definitely they way forward in Japan


yeh but you need time to implement it

and all too often they just don't give you enough time

... at least in the public schools (where I teach)


Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:32 pm
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Quote:
and all too often they just don't give you enough time

... at least in the public schools (where I teach)


Hi Kiwione,

Which level do you teach at? At JHS it is one of the officially recommend ways of teaching in the course of study. A few ( many?) beers with your JTE might let you get some "testing time" next year. When that goes well you should get more. Phonics has a great success with first graders.

If you're in elementary school then we're supposed to be focused on speaking/listening anyway so there's probably no need to do start phonics, if you only have a few lessons use the time to get the kids speaking well!


Be genki,

Richard

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Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:32 pm
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Quote:
If you're in elementary school then we're supposed to be focused on speaking/listening anyway so there's probably no need to do start phonics, if you only have a few lessons use the time to get the kids speaking well!


What Assistant Language Teachers are "supposed" to be doing in elementary school and what we SHOULD be teaching differs, in my opinion. I believe there is an immense need for Phonics when teaching English to Japanese students and I think the earlier they start, the faster they can learn.

My conspiracy theory is that Japan doesn't teach Phonics because they don't know how to teach it. And, telling a foreign teacher to teach Phonics is out of the question because you can't expect a foreign English teacher to know the rules of Phonics, seeing that a lot of English speaking countries don't even know the first thing about Phonics.

I'm not trying to argue or beat a dead horse, but I believe we need to be teaching Phonics in elementary school. The overarching concern of English in elementary school in Japan is to try and keep English fun for the students for when they start studying the language "for real" starting in JHS. If Phonics can be taught in a fun way in elementary school, I think we should be teaching it.

What Japan's Ministry of Education has told elementary schools to teach, in terms of English, I believe is because the lack of knowing a better approach to teaching English.

Honestly, I tend to shake things up daily at school because I don't agree with a lot of what is being taught. However, my elementary schools seem to be having tremendous amounts of fun studying Phonics. Hell, the newest rage at my schools is an idea I picked up from this forum. I call it Pacman Phonics!

I think our job as English teachers is to teach the students English in the best way we know how. If there is a better way of accomplishing this task by questioning or going against the grain of the current system, then so be it.

I will say, entire English books superscripted in katakana is NOT studying English...

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Sun Jul 15, 2007 2:16 am
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patrick wrote:
Quote:
If Phonics can be taught in a fun way in elementary school, I think we should be teaching it.


Patrick,
I completely agree with you here. Having knowledge of the written language gives you valuable clues in pronunciation, helps you notice the subtle grammar points, and helps you remember what you were taught.

Like you said, it has to be taught in a fun way and it also should be preceded by a lot of oral introduction to the language.

The problem begins when the whole concept of elementary English education becomes higher test scores and not English proficiency. We REALLY don't need the (extremely faulty in my opinion) junior high curriculum being moved down to elementary!

Kudos to you for all your efforts in teaching your students phonics!


Sun Jul 15, 2007 8:21 pm
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As I said before, I teach English in Spain. I know the phonic methods and we use it to teach children learn Spanish. They learn the sound of the letter at the same time we teach them the letter, but with English there are some problems. I already mentioned the different sounds a letter can have. Here comes another one I find all the time:
MY KIDS DO NOT DISTINGUISH THE SOUNDS!!!
m biggest problem is that in English there are more sounds than in Spanish and children (and me) have problems to hear some of them. For Spanish people is really difficult to hear the difference between a short and a long vowel. It means I can stay months working a sound and still have problems with it. What do you do them?
Really, it is really hard to loose the Spanish accent and Spanish people is terrible with pronuntiation. Any ideas how to improve it?


Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:10 pm
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I can see how this is frustrating for you. It's difficult to teach a sound students can't hear. I know I still have problems with the 'long' vowel sounds in Japanese.

I would say that before students can pronounce it 'correctly' they have to be able to hear it. When you work on pronunciation, or better yet whenever you can work it in, color code the short vowel sounds, or use some sort of hand signal. Get them to notice that these have different sounds. Give them a hint as to how to pronounce them (ie with the short 'o' sound get them to open their mouths round like the letter) and remind them of how it should 'feel' .
Don't spend a lot of time in the beginning on forming the sounds. Once they start to notice that the sounds should be different and have heard it a number of times, hopefully they will be able to try and pronounce it.

Good luck and keep us posted. I think we all have problems in this area and it would be great to share ideas!


Tue Jul 17, 2007 8:59 am
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I don't think accents are bad. They will always exist in people learning another language. However, I think the thing that distinguishes Japanese who are learning English and other cultures studying English is that the Japanese use katakana superscript, which I believe is detrimental because of the inability to produce accurate sounds.

A Japanese teacher asked me one time: "If English is spoken by so many countries, what English do we learn?" I told him it doesn't matter and I don't care if he speaks like an American, Canadian, New Zealander, South African, British, Australian, etc. as long as when he's studying, he's not reading katakana.

In my opinion, accents aren't bad as long as the accent isn't the result of reading your L1 alphabet when studying.


As for distinguishing sounds, Japanese students have a hard time distinguishing M/N and L/R, but after 8 Phonics lessons, they no longer have that difficulty. I think with an adequate amount of consistant and correct practice, students shouldn't have a problem distinguishing sounds.

The previous poster mentioned his/her students not being able to distinguish the sounds. Have you taken Phonics back to the basics? Meaning, have to started teaching them individual sounds of the consonants before you throw vowels into the mix?

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Tue Jul 17, 2007 9:36 am
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funwithstories wrote:
Give them a hint as to how to pronounce them (ie with the short 'o' sound get them to open their mouths round like the letter) and remind them of how it should 'feel'.


To add to what this poster said, mnemonics is my mistress of teaching Phonics. When I start adding vowels into the mix, I try and give the students as many mnemonic techniques to remember how to form a certain sound. Like for the short vowel "O" sound, like in "dOg," I tell my students they are not pronunoucing the "O" correctly until they open their mouth enough to be able to stick 3 fingers VERTICALLY into it. This has resulted in some very interesting classroom antics....but, I never have to worry about students saying that sound with a heavy katakana accent anymore.

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Tue Jul 17, 2007 9:46 am
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First of all, if you don't mind, I would like to know a bit more about this katakana you mention. I read it in a lot of posts and I have no idea what it is. I'm really curious.
Sencondly, my English friends say I have an exotic accent, so it is not so bad to have an Spanish accent :)
And about sounds, my students do not have much problems with consonants, the only ones are "w" like wood, good, wolf. But with the vowels... it is terrible. I try to teach them to pronounce correctly since the begining, so at 5 years old they say "cat" and "cut" correctly. Then, they start to read and when they start reading in English something happens and they pronounce the words as they are written, so they don't say them correctly.
I never thought it could be so difficult to make and Spanish understand that the letter that is written down is not the sound you have to say. I started to think about using the International Phonetic Alphabet. Do you think it will be to much for 7 years old kids?


Tue Jul 17, 2007 7:53 pm
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Katakana is a Japanese writing system similar to an alphabet that is used for non-Japanese words, but still is still Japanese. It is just another character set. (There are three writing systems in Japanese: 2 alphabets - hiragana and katakana, and Chinese characters.)

What teachers are talking about is using that character set to write out the sounds the words make, but using Japanese. It would look something like this if I were to try and do the same thing to Spanish using English

__ kay_passa
A: Que pasa?
__day_nadda
B: De nada.

Or with French.

__kell_ tomps_fayteel
A: Quel temps fait-il ?
_ eel fay fwaw
B: Il fait froid.

So English speaking students can 'read' the conversation, but can't read the Spanish or French. They would just be making the sounds using the English reading rules. The English makes no sense obviously and this is what many Japanese teacher do to 'teach' students how to read, except they are using katakana (the Japanese writing system) over the English words.

** I've never taken Spanish and can't remember French so please excuse both my French and Spanish :oops: I hope those are right :| **

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Tue Jul 17, 2007 9:29 pm
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marele wrote:
I never thought it could be so difficult to make and Spanish understand that the letter that is written down is not the sound you have to say.

I posted this before and maybe in this thread but ... With my young learners I tell them sounds 'say' things. I don't bother with telling them it's the reading. So, I tell them A says 'a' as in apple, ant, astronant...

Then I go on to explain that letters don't say their name just like animals don't say their names.

Mark: Does a cat say 'Cat. Cat.'?
Students: No. 'Meow. Meow.'
Mark: Right. English letters are the same they don't say their name. A doesn't say 'Ay. Ay.' It says 'a' 'a'.

and then continue on.

That pretty much does the trick for me. Students understand that the sound the letters make and their names are quite different.

marele wrote:
I started to think about using the International Phonetic Alphabet. Do you think it will be to much for 7 years old kids?


Yeah, I think IPA would be too much and in my opinion not helpful. IPA is used to study languages, not teach them. It will help you pronounce a word you don't know but won't teach you how to read. If you are teaching whole reading then maybe IPA is helpful, because students can look the word up in the dictionary and sound out the IPA symbols. But again it doesn't help the students learn to read. It's not much different than the above example with English written over French and Spanish. They have to memorize each word individually and when they come across a word they haven't memorized yet, they won't be able to read it.

Reading is difficult for native speakers and teaching reading is difficult, as well. There are hundreds if not thousands of websites on this and books as far as the eye can see. It just goes to show that we don't know (or that many people think they know best.)

Some students and even classes take very quickly to reading and phonics and some don't. But over time they all improve. They might not be making noticable progress this afternoon and maybe not as much progress as another class or student, but that's OK. People are different.

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Tue Jul 17, 2007 9:49 pm
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Please forgive me if I sound picky for bringing it up, but I've noticed a few people use the term A says a for apple, and I can't help but read that as though we're saying that the letter speaks.

Wouldn't it be more gramatically correct to use A is said a, or for better flow to use in chants or what not, A's said a, apple, apple.

Or maybe this a form that I never learned.


Wed Jul 18, 2007 12:07 pm
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Seriously now, can anyone explain why otherwise gramatically correct speaking teachers of English suddenly switch into this form of (what sounds to my ears, like) babyspeak when teaching phonics?


Tue Aug 21, 2007 9:31 am
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