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Published: Sunday May 26, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday May 26, 2013 MYT 2:18:51 PM

Unlocking the keys of pronunciation

OVER the past weeks, attention has been given to the factors a speaker must consider and master if he or she is to be a confident and competent communicator in English.

As explained in some detail, the stress factor has to be understood, as does the importance of the syllabic break-up of words.

The other area that one needs to master is the Mnemonic Keys to Understanding Pronunciation.

As mentioned in previous columns, these keys or rules mostly date back over 300 years.

In those days, the rules were taught to ensure that students understood “Why words are pronounced the way they are” which in turn, assisted them to know “How to pronounce words correctly”.

Unfortunately, these rules appeared to fall out of academic fashion over the centuries and most were virtually “lost”.

These rules were then re-developed and taught as part of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language today. Some of these rules can also be used to improve on one’s personal spelling.

This is understandable because, as often is the case, poor pronunciation can impact negatively on a person’s spelling proficiency while superior spelling skills can play a positive role in the personal pronunciation realm.

Rules of the game

The most common pronunciation key is: “When two vowels go out walking, the first one usually does the talking.”

Simply put, when a word has two vowels together, the first one is usually sounded as a long sound while the second one remains silent.

Consider the words: seat, boat, rain, fuel, tie. In each instance, the first vowel makes a long sound, that is, it says its own name and in each case, the second vowel remains silent.

When students know how to pronounce “seat” correctly, they can then use the skills transfer technique to pronounce dozens of “ea”-related words such as beat, heat, meat, feat, wheat, defeat, repeat, etc.

In the case of “ea” words, the mnemonic key approach also takes learning to a higher level as it explains that in some “ea” words, while the first vowel is sounded and the second one is silent, the first one sometimes makes a short or regular sound, eg. dead, bread, feather, weather, leopard, etc.

Knowing these rules or keys enables teachers to explain why “read” and “lead” can be pronounced in two different ways.

The system also explains that for a handful of commonly used, foreign-borrowed words such as Caesar, archaeologist, paediatrician, steak — the rule is reversed.

It says instead: “When two vowels go out walking, the second one does the talking.”

Eeee, it’s an ‘e’

Another common mnemonic key teaches: “A final silent ‘e’ usually lets the other vowel do the talking.”

In other words, when a word ends in an “e”, it is almost always silent and the preceding vowel makes its long sound.

It will be found that beside people’s names and words like “we, he, me,…” etc., there are fewer than a dozen “e”-ending words in English in which that final “e” is pronounced, eg. apostrophe, catastrophe, epitome, hyperbole, recipe, coyote, posse, ukulele.

Meanwhile, pronounce the words: bake, scene, bite, home, rude. It will be noted that all the words end in a silent “e” and that the preceding vowels are pronounced as long vowels — saying their own names. Using the skills transfer technique, dozens of related words can be pronounced correctly, eg. stake, shake, earthquake, serene, kite, respite, etc.

Arrr, why is it so?

Numerous English words have words with syllable or symbol combinations that end with the consonant “r”. There is a special mnemonic key that teaches how “r usually changes the sound of the vowels that come before it.”

Compare the words cat and car, fog and for, bit and bird, felt and fern. In each “r”-ending word, the preceding vowel has had its regular sound changed.

There are exceptions to this rule such as “rr” words and others like orange and paradise but it is still a valuable key to know.

The “wr”-combination words are given their own mnemonic key: “The ‘wr’ blend always says ‘r…’.” Examples: write, wrong, wreck, wrist, wring, wrestle, wreath.

Similarly, the odd-looking consonant blends are also given a mention: “In odd-looking consonant blends, only one consonant is usually sounded.”

Examples: czar, gnash, khaki, pneumonia, psalm, tsunami, Tzarina, mnemonic.

The next column will look at the characteristics of the English language that influence the way words are pronounced.

n Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English. The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels. E-mail contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for a free copy of 4S Mnemonic Keys To Understanding Pronunciation PPP.

Tags / Keywords: Education, News, exploring english

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