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Learning the Incorrect Sounds Can Lead to Reading Difficulties

I'm going to share with you one of the key reasons why many children experience reading problems. I work with many kids between 4 to 7, and sometimes even younger. When I get new students to my reading program, I always do a quick assessment, and I can tell you that roughly 8, probably 9 out of 10 kids are taught many of the alphabet sounds incorrectly at school.

There are a variety of reasons why a child or adult may have reading problems, and one of which is the lack of fluent decoding skills. Contributing to this, is the fact that so many children are learning the incorrect phonics sounds at school.

To learn to read effectively, a young learner must develop phonemic awareness and when they are taught the incorrect sounds at school, it will often lead to reading problems.

Why are Our Kids Taught the Wrong Sounds?

There are mainly two reasons why so many children are learning incorrect sounds: 1) lack of proper knowledge by teachers, and 2) alphabet songs. Yes, I know, those wonderfully catchy phonics songs. They are often the culprit leading to poor pronunciation of the sounds. I'll explain why.

From what I see, the most common sounds kids pronounce incorrectly include:

What happens with these sounds is that the child adds a voiced "uh" sound at the end of each of these sounds, so they come out such as:

And this is incorrect.

If these are the wrong sounds, then why are kids being taught like that at school? I don't think it's done intentionally, but rather, the sounds are much easier to make and much easier to sing in the songs. For example:

"Bouncing ball, bouncing ball, buh buh buh."

It just rolls off the tongue better when you voice the ending "uh" sound.

So how does learning improper sounds lead to reading difficulties?

When a child learns the improper sounds, and then attempts to read/decode printed text to synthesize words from the improper sounds, they will be unable to string together and "hear" the correct word. Let's use a simple example - we'll use letter B, the improper /buh/ sound again.

The word examples we'll use are BUS and SUB.

When you sound out words where the improper /buh/ sound comes in front of the vowel, such as BUS, you won't have much problems. However, when the improper /buh/ sound comes AFTER of the vowel, such as SUB, you will encounter problems. Try this:

Sound out BUS with the improper /buh/ sound:

/buh/ /uh/ /s/ - it'll sound just like BUS.

Now, sound out SUB with the improper /buh/ sound:

/s/ /uh/ /buh/ - it'll sound like SUBUH. When a child reads SUB but hears "SUBUH", he/she won't know what was just read, because "subuh" isn't a word. This applies to all other sounds.

I hope this has shed some light on the importance of learning the proper phonics sounds. Alphabet songs are great, and fun to sing, but I do think that more attention needs to be focused on the proper pronunciation of the letter sounds in the songs.

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