E-joo-kay-shun (and other phonetics)

(featured photo from STL.com)

The title of this piece refers to how I spelled the word education on a 2nd grade spelling pre-test. By the end of the week I had learned the correct, dictionary spelling, and I have never forgotten it. Even today when I spell the word for something, I say the letters to myself – e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n.

Why did I spell the word like in the title? I was taught, if you didn’t know a word, you sounded it out. That’s what my 7 year old brain came up with when I sounded out education to myself. I still do this with words I come across as an adult [and sounding out something like emoluments usually gets me the correct spelling 🙂 ]

What I am doing is called phonetics, which means, according to our ever-present dictionary (whether online or in hardcopy) the study and classification of speech sounds. I am studying what a word sounds like, and then translating those sounds into a word that can be written down. If I make a mistake, I learn from it.

From that 7 year old, I went on to become one of the top spellers in my school. By the 6th grade I was reading and spelling like someone a lot older. I spent lots of time with books, reading and learning as I went. I remember picking up Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet at age 9 or 10 and learning several new words, including migration and administrator.

Today’s students are not learning to read through phonetics. Several articles (including this one from USA Today) show that today’s students are not making gains in reading or math, and the way educators are teaching them may be part of the problem. Phonetics has been shown to be an excellent way to get children to learn not only sounds in words, but their spelling as well. Creating meaning can also be part of phonetics, as sounding out a word in a sentence can help create the meaning of that word through reading aloud. Hearing what you are reading often helps a child understand better. It’s why parents are pushed to read to their children aloud. My mother and father both read to myself and my brother, although I preferred dad’s reading as I got older. Hearing Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz helped to solidify a love of story and fantastical places.

We as human beings need to go back to phonetics as a way to teach children to read and understand. Children need to have ways to learn letter and letter combination sounds in English, and understand why those letters make those sounds. T-I-O-N sounds like SHUN, so why isn’t it spelled that way? 

We want children to succeed in life, and learning to read is part and parcel of that success. If your child is learning to read, consider what the local school curriculum is with regard to reading. If they don’t include a phonetics component, get on their case to include it!


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