- Instant Reader
- July 9, 2017, 10:59 pm
Most parents think that the best pre-reading activity for their child is the introduction of the alphabet. The first exposure to the alphabet comes most easily with the parent singing the alphabet song often — when rocking him, when riding in the car, just in play. Many parents put an alphabet poster in their child’s room where they sing the song and point to the letters.
They feel proud when at the age of 2, their child already recognizes all the letters of the alphabet. And when they feel their child is ready to learn how to read at age 3, 4, or 5, they try to teach him/her using story books or enroll the child to a reading program.
Then they will wonder why their child isn’t learning fast, tends to forget every new set of words they have learned a few days ago, or finds it difficult to read simple three-letter words. That is despite mastering all the letters of the alphabet!
This is because learning and memorizing the alphabet is not a guarantee that a child will be able to read quickly and effectively.
Actually it slows down the process of reading. It goes against the natural process of speaking and learning reading.
I have yet to see or meet a child who after memorizing or mastering the alphabet automatically or instantly reads words and sentences. So how could alphabet introduction go wrong?
How do you say “M”? You probably said “Em”, right? Of course – that’s the name of that letter. And how do you make the sound of M? Every reader knows its “mmm.”
It’s easy for you, as an adult to automatically remember both of these details about the letter M. It’s not so easy for a child learning to read, it’s this second piece of information, the letter sound, that he needs to learn. Teaching him the letter name, “Em,” just adds confusion and should be postponed until later.
So what is the right way to teach your child to read?
If you are teaching reading to young children, you should always start with letter sounds, not names. This is because there are only 26 letters of the English alphabet while there are 44 sounds (also known as phonemes) that are used in spoken English.
Teaching a child the letter names first would give him a hard time unlearning those names against learning the sounds, especially when a single letter represents multiple sounds. The child will definitely get confused and this will slow down the process of reading.
So while your child hasn’t been introduced to the alphabet, put letter names completely out of your vocabulary for the time being. I would even go so far as to suggest that you do NOT teach the alphabet song, unless you're going to sing it using sounds, not names.
Letter names only confuses the learning to read process.
It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but that's just because most people were taught to read by learning letter names first. When a child learns a letter name, then he has to "translate" from the name to the sound in order to sound out a word. It's a very inefficient process for the brain to perform. He sees the word man, has to recognize the letters by their names, then has to remember that M says "mmm", A says "a" and N says "nnn" and finally recognizes the words as "hat." Of course it happens faster and faster as he gains experience but if he has any trouble at all making these associations, he'll be tripped up and his learning may stall.
When a child learns letter sounds directly, he doesn't have to take the intermediate step of associating letter name to sound. He sees man, and can immediately think "mmm a nnn", then blend the sounds together into "man." It's a much more direct process for him. His brain only has to remember 1 thing for each letter, not both a name and a sound.
Take it one step at a time.
Once your child is reading easily, you can teach letter names probably in the course of a few days. Children do need to know letter names if they are spelling something out loud or reading abbreviations, for instance.
Learning to read is a complicated process. Your child still needs to learn the letter sounds, be able to remember the first sound by the time he reaches the last letter, and understand how to blend them together. It's a pretty complicated task for a 4 year old, if you think about it. But at least with this method, you're using the most direct path to reading for your child. Why introduce additional confusing factors if you don't have to?
Leave the letter names for later. He needs to learn his letter sounds and let them become automatic before spending time learning letter names.
About the Author
Hi! I’m Teacher Vicki the author and founder of Instant Reader™ . My 25 years in the teaching field continues to strengthen my conviction that an effective and proper reading foundation indeed gives any child a significant edge not just in school but life in totality. Children who are early readers are lovers of learning. They lead, they stand out and are able to unleash their full potentials.
I want to hear from you. Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are very much welcome. It’s always great to keep on learning from each other.
( BS Development Communication, UP Los Banos; M.A.in Education, UP Diliman; Diploma in Dyslexia , Blackford Centre for Dyslexia, UK, London)