Articles – Letter Sounds

As mentioned in another article, there are no such things as letter sounds, because letters do not make sounds. The reason we speak of letter sounds is that we are trying to find a way to teach reading, or spelling. But starting with letters and their sounds is not the most effective way of teaching students these skills.

Students find it easiest to learn material that is based upon something they already know. When they start learning something new that has this type of firm foundation, they find it easier to process the new information, and remember it.

In the case of learning to read or spell, the foundational knowledge and skills students already have are the sounds in their own speech. So, by using the language students already know, we can teach them to hear the individual sounds in words. Then we teach them to say each of those sounds correctly.

Then they can learn the letter (or letter team) that represents each sound. It’s important that as students learn each sound, that they are also taught a way to represent that sound, because sounds can’t be seen. This invisibility makes thinking about sounds difficult. But there are ways around this problem.

The most common way we make sounds visible is by writing them (either through handwriting or typing), but having to learn those skills while learning to read can require time that students don’t have.

Use Hand Signs to Represent Sounds

In order to save having to teach letters and writing at this stage, this course teaches hand signs. Each hand sign can be learnt in a few seconds, and each is related to the memory word for its sound. The alphabet hand signs are also related to the letter for that sound, so knowing the hand sign also helps students learn their letters later on.

It has been very interesting to see how many minor (and intermediate level) hearing and speech difficulties can be discovered and dealt with through teaching these foundational skills of hearing, speaking, and hand signing. While some students do complete the reading course without being able to say all the sounds (such as sound /r/ in rabbit), they are all able to represent all the sounds, even those they cannot say, by using the hand signs.

Even students who cannot hear all the sounds can use the hand signs to show the sound they think you are saying; and you can hand sign back with the correct hand sign. So, within a few seconds the student can be sure of what is being said.

The hand signs are also very useful for correcting mispronunciations, because students can be shown the correct pronunciation through hand signs, and they can then copy the correct pattern of sounding out by hand signing, and then practice that sounding out vocally.

To learn more about the hand signs and the Course they were designed for, see the Articles section in the menu.