On Phonics and Spellings

All I knew about phonics till about three years back was it was all about learning the sounds of the letters. When my daughter first started school and came back home one day singing, ‘Snake is in the grass, snake is in the grass, ssssssss’, that’s when I started taking a real interest in learning all about phonics and using it to form the spellings of words. At the end of her pre-nursery, my daughter and I could sing the songs for almost all the alphabets. I was to discover only later that the songs they taught in her school were from ‘Jolly Phonics’.

Having so far never been a mother who freaks out and makes her kid study for several hours each week, partly because my daughter just cannot be made to sit if she is not interested and I am also of a strong believer that there is no way a person can escape from learning ABCD, all through her Nursery and Kindergarten 1, I continued to be laid back teaching her only on and off. The school was doing a good job anyway and I never could and still cannot understand why so many parents are enrolling their kids for extra phonics classes.

As my daughter started kindergarten-2 (UKG), that’s when I saw myself working with her more frequently on spellings and reading because she was also taking an interest in it by then. Now in primary 1 when she often has tests and exams, we study a lot more using phonics and tricks to remember the spellings of words. I make her use more of phonics to form spellings on her own, than learning the spellings by heart.

Now, English is a weird language. As my daughter and I often discuss, ‘Why is ‘c’ sometimes pronounced with a ‘sa’ sound and sometimes with a ‘ka’ sound?’, ‘Why is ‘g’ sometimes’ ‘ga’ and sometimes ‘ja’?’ And that’s when I tell her that only with more and more self reading that one will remember the exact letters to be used for a word.

To me, every time I think about the spellings in English, the one movie which immediately comes to my mind is the old Hindi classic ‘Chupke Chupke’. Remember the scene where Dharmendra wonders all about the English language when he asks “Why ‘No’ is no and ‘Know’ is also pronounced as ‘No’?! “Why is the letter ‘P’ not pronounced in the word ‘Pneumonia’?!” In the last few weeks, my daughter and I have also been having conversations like these what with one test after another.

A couple of days before her ‘EVS’ test on the chapter ‘Keeping Clean’, there we were studying all about the parts of the body and keeping oneself clean, when I had this sudden ‘Aahaa!’ moment when she was trying to form the spellings of ‘taste’ and ‘paste’.

I really don’t know if I was discovering it for the first time or if I had read this somewhere sometime, but I realized that when a vowel is going to be pronounced not in its phonics sound but the actual (?) sound, the words end with ‘e’. For example, ‘past’ and ‘paste’, ‘pal’ and ‘pale’, ‘cub’ and ‘cube’, ‘pin’ and ‘pine’, ‘hop’ and ‘hope’. Post this observation, my daughter was easily spelling a lot more words.

And that’s when came the English exam where she had to form the spelling of the word that was the opposite of hot. She happily said, ‘colde’! I said, ‘No!’ Then she said, ‘But you told me that when ‘o’ is not pronounced in its phonics sound, we have to add an ‘e’ in the end!’ That, my dear daughter, is English, a language I really love!

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