American Louisa Moats, a leading authority on how children learn to read says that the lack of understanding by teachers on how language works contribute to the problem in the reading skills in schools.
She said that the total disregard for language that most teachers exhibit for over 30 years have slackened the approach in teaching reading to children.
The weakened approach, according to the researcher partly comprised the belief that spelling is not that important. What was important in today's approach is making the meaning rather than correctly reading the words. Likewise she found that in the present scenario what was given more emphasis was how to express the ideas instead of making sentences that are grammatically correct. She said that right now she does not have an idea on how to put a stop into this practice.
A deep-seated problem
What her continued study revealed was that the problem is deeply entrenched in the teaching profession. When education professors in the United States were tested on their knowledge of grammar, including the smallest unit of grammar – morpheme, or how many sounds there were in simple words like "quick," it was found out that they fared no better than engineering students who used their common sense to come up with answers. The debate on teaching of reading in the United States, Britain and Australia had now been reduced to whether phonics, meaning letter-sound combinations of a language, should be taught or not. She said that this is a false dichotomy because it overshadowed the underlying problem: that even the teachers are ignorant about the English language's rudimentary structure and processes.
Dr. Moats said that teachers who are more knowledgeable in the subject are better able to teach it to children. She added that reading is the most studied component of the psychology of human beings, during a conference in Sydney.
Speech sounds in English
In the English language, there are 20 vowel speech sounds and 24 individually different consonant speech sounds. Speech sounds are called phonemes and each one is symbolically represented, and these symbols are what comprises the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
Most of the symbols used for the speech sounds are similar to the letters of the alphabet, although there are exceptions. Letter combinations or digraphs also exist, such as "ch," "sh" and "th" that represent one sound. The letters "q" and "x" on the other hand are examples of blends. A blend is a combination of two or three consonant sounds close to one another in the same syllable found in a word. For example, /l/ is a blend in the words blue, clown and plane, the /r/ in crayon, frog and green, and the /s/ in ask, slide, star and swing. The "x" sound in "box" is made by a blend of /gz/ while "q" in quick and quiet uses the /kw/ blend.
Importance of the IPA
For so long, it has been said that to learn a new language, a person must learn its grammar. However, what is more important to fully learn a language is to understand the speech sounds, which could be very useful in the learning process and development of a "native accent." IPA helps in laying the foundation for the ability to communicate through imitation and conscious production of the sounds and its variations. Learning the IPA will greatly help to master the speech sounds of vowels and consonants and help in the improvement of accent and pronunciation. The IPA is important in speech therapy and language and speech disorder interventions. It is also valuable for teaching reading skills to actors, singers, translators and linguists.