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Cracking the Reading Code

Speech Sound Mapping: Bridging the Gap Between Spoken and Written English - From Speech to Print and Print to Speech; Cracking the Reading Code
Express an interest in the Universal Spelling Code Guide: Cracking the Reading Code Handbook Launching Soon 


The Universal Written Code 

The written code was designed to represent speech, but it was originally based on a specific way of speaking.

Teaching children to read according to their local accent is like teaching them a new language but only in the accent of their region. Instead, we use a universal code, which children can then adapt to their accent.

For instance, when an Australian child with a specific accent encounters the letter /a/, they are not taught to say the sound they use according to their accent. They are taught to link it with the universal sound /æ/. This approach aligns with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and serves as a universal translator of phonemes to words. Children cannot expect to type their regional sounds and see the word they mean. ''The Story' introduces this to children learning with  the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in Australia - see the ICRWY Lessons app.

Understanding this reveals why many teachers struggle to teach phonics, and so many children struggle to learn with phonics programs. The spoken and written codes are not a simple match, yet this is rarely explained to children.

When training teachers of phonics I ask them  to do something they assume they can do well: identify the speech sounds in words. If five children say the same word with different accents, using five different phonemes, can they identify those sounds? Or are they blinded by the letters they see in  their minds, and the sounds they use - or know are used within their phonics program. 

The next step is to help them map speech sounds to the correct graphemes with children, in a way that aligns with the IPA - the Universal Spelling Code- which remain consistent regardless of the phonemes. Current phonics programs often overlook this crucial aspect, and when they do address it, they generally do so poorly. Very few teachers have ever had training that even touches this issue - or the issue of their orthographic interference! A great starting point is the IPA - the International Phonetic Alphabet. 


The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system of phonetic notation that provides a standardised way to represent the sounds of spoken language. Developed by the International Phonetic Association, the IPA uses symbols to denote each distinct sound (phoneme), enabling accurate transcription of pronunciation across all languages.

Key Features of the IPA:

  1. Universal Representation: The IPA assigns a unique symbol to each sound in human speech, making it possible to accurately transcribe the pronunciation of any language, regardless of its spelling system.

  2. Distinct Symbols: Each phoneme is represented by a specific symbol. For instance, the IPA symbol /æ/ corresponds to the vowel sound in "cat," while /ʃ/ represents the "sh" sound in "she."

  3. Consistent Notation: Unlike conventional spelling, which can vary and be inconsistent across languages, the IPA provides a uniform method for describing sounds, avoiding confusion and ambiguity.

  4. Detail and Precision: The IPA includes additional symbols and diacritics to convey fine details of pronunciation, such as stress, tone, and intonation.

  5. Educational Use: It is widely used in linguistics, language teaching, speech therapy, and dictionary making to analyse and teach accurate pronunciation.

My role is to help children isolate, segment, and blend phonemes at ages 2 and 3. I guide them to map these sounds to the corresponding 'sound pictures' and to understand the written code. This method is effective regardless of whether the children are Irish, Australian, American, or Jamaican. They grasp this concept quickly due to my teaching approach, though few understand how it works or how to implement it in classrooms, despite my efforts to explain it over the past decade. So I have stopped trying to explain it, and will go back  to 1:1 teaching of children with teachers watching me. This is why I am seeking funding to launch the Early Learning Differences Centre. 

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