Pronunciàtion Gìdes in Children's Dictionarys

Pronunciation Guides in Children's Dictionaries

Màking spelling and speaking easier for lerners

Making spelling and speaking easier for learners

Note: All the special marks here to help pronunciàtion should be the same grav acsent on the vowel letters a e i ou - as à è ì ò ù. - but some browsers may chànge these intu very strànge marks. I am sorry if this happens as it will make the page ùseless to u.

The pages presented here include 'Spelling without traps for readers', with gìdes for pronunciàtion, but not consistently, so u may pick out the spellings that u think would help lerners mòst. See explanation.

How can lerners find out from dictionarys how to pronounce new vocabulary thay fìnd in reading?

Mìgrants to our shors inclùde meny who can speak English but cannot read it, but also others who can read and wrìte English well - yet cannot speak it. Voice tecnologies can help out, but a book dictionary is always handy. Pronunciàtion keys for adults can ùse the International Fonetic Alfabet and other sofisticated gìdes, but thèse ar too hard for children and for mòst mìgrants still lerning English.

My fields of study as a psìcologist ar literacy and imaginàtion. Dictionarys ar fasinàting on bòth accounts.
In the 1980s I lookd at forty children's dictionarys and wurd-books and found out that ònly 4 gàve eny help about how to pronounce the mòst tricky wurds, and ònly 2 gàve a pronunciàtion key for all wurds.

No wonder children often dare not use their full vocabulary because they could be laughed at. No wonder children often dair not ùse thair full vocabùlary becaus thay could be lafd at. (Yule, 1989)

Now I hav updàted this study, 25 years on.

I hav lookd at 36 dictionarys and wurd books currently on the market for children and scools. Haf of them still giv no gìde at all, especially thòse for yungr children. I suppòse it is assùmed that adults will read the wurds to them. Of the remaining haf, 8 dictionarys sometimes giv a gìde to pronunciàtion, 3 often du and ònly 7 always du. That is, the advantage is givn to the lucky children who ar alredy mòst adept in English.

The eleven dictionaries which giv 'ocàsional' gìdes differ wìdely in the wurds that thay select as needing an aid. Ùsùally thay giv no clu to the mòst common irregùlar wurds, such as who, was, are, so again the advantage is for English-speaking children who ar alredy fairly literat, and leave out beginners and lerners of English language.

4 màjor tìpes of pronunciàtion gìde ar provìded in dictionarys for children It is strìking how thay diverge in how thay represent the spòken wurd. Which ar the mòst helpful for lerners?

Fìve aspects

1 How to sho stress in a wurd, and segment sillabls
2 Unexpected initial letters,
3 Speech sounds that English spelling dus not discriminàte,
4 Dìalect issùes
5 Long vowels

1 How to shò stress in a wurd.

Shòwing where the stress gòs in a wurd is important, becaùse children can be hùmiliàted when thay get it wrong. 'Melanncoly' and 'elly-jibble' - ha ha.

There ar fìve ways that dictionarys commonly sho stress plàcement in wurds - bòld print, underlìning, màcrons, apostrofès or stops after the stressd siillabl. Hevy màcron dìacritics and èven mor, apostrofès or stops, disrupt the visùal lìne of the wurd and ar mor difficult for children to ùse than bòld or underlìned sillables. Underlìning is easy to copy in handwrìting. Bòld print is probably least disruptiv of the visùal lìne of the wurd; it is intùitivly understood, and it lessens the difference in appearance between the pronunciàtion gìde and real spelling.

But some of the ways ùsed to màke clear the stress in a wurd can màke a pronunciàtion gìde look very unlìke the spelling that the children must lern to wrìte themselvs. Problem issùs ar how to represent sillabls, and the obscùre unstressd vowel schwa, which in IPA nòtàtion is the upsìde-down e.


Where should sillabls be cut in shòwing where the stress gòes? Cùriusly, dictionarys often differ in what is a sillabl in a wurd. For exampl, should it be tem-pru-cher or temp-ruh-chur, rest-a-ron or res-tuh-ront? For the sàke of children's understanding of the linguistic structùre of wurds, I would hòpe that pronunciàtion gìdes would segment wurds bì thair morfèmes - into the segments of meaning.

We kno that longr wurds ar harder for children to read and spell. Cutting wurds into sillables may trì to màke them easier to tackl.
In mì yùth, children's comics lìke Tiger Tim never worryd about ùsing long wurds. Thay just split them up with hìfens and then the littl bits wer easy. So children who mìt still be stuck at scool in thair Year 2 reading book, out of class could be enjoying de-tect-ive stories with brill-iant hero-ic char-act-ers hav-ing a-maz-ing ad-vent-ures. Edùcàtors heapd scorn on this practice, but I hav never seen eny reserch that justifìd the scorn.

Three of the 4 dictionarys also split up the longr wurds with hìfens. Why du I feel less happy about this than I did about Tiger Tim? One reason is that Tiger Tim's hìfens aimd to màke it easier to read wurds sìlently for meaning. But du hìfens màke it easier to speak the wurds aloud smoothly? I understand that there has not yet been comparativ reserch to fìnd out whether children fìnd easier pronunciàtion gìdes that ar choppd up with hìfens, or no hìfens at all, and relìing on bòld print that marks the stressd sillabl to màke visibl a sort of segmentàtion, whìle the wurd itself remains hòl and neat-looking. It may be that the mor letters ùsed in the pronunciàtion gìde, màking it longr, the mor that children will need hìfens to read the sillabls, and Jolly's gìde ùses fewer letters, - altho when it dus hav a really long wurd, how du children còpe with a pronunciàtion lìke exclemaishen?

All the dictionarys represent the slurrd sillabls in one way or another, but some of thair representàtions of the slurrd vowel, the schwa, ar mor làbord than in the casùally spòken wurd. It is hard not to pronounce the gìde fuh-roh-shus as fuh-roh-shus, despìte the underlìning of the roh, or temp-ruh-chuh as temp-ruh-chuh despìte the bòld print for temp. It may be mor help to a chìld to pronounce ak-tew-el so that it sounds lìke actual than pronouncing it as ak-choo--uhl.

Three of the children's dictionarys represent the unstressd sillabl in a wurd with up to fìve letters, which can màke quìte a bisness of them. d-u-h-n-t for the fìnal sillabl in accident - is that really necessary? The wurd bicentenary has 11 letters but the pronunciàtion gìde in one dictionary tàkes 20 caracters - nearly twìce as long buy-suhn-teen-uh-ree ! Another dictionary tàkes the simpl approach of bòld letters for the first letters of a stressed sillable, then following with spellings resembling conventional spelling, as in temperecher. When spoken with the stress on the bold letters, the slurring follows naturally - temperecher becomes temprecher, and acsident becomes acsident.

One dictionary simplifies further bi representing mòst slurred vowels with a different shape of e, a single caracter, which may màke for less labored pronunciàtion, and also has the effect of making the gìde look mor lìke a normally spelld wurd. I think this approach could be tested as to whether it might be the mòst effectiv as an aid for children - to be as visually concise and as close to the conventional spelling as possibl - that is, relì on bòld print to show the stressd sillabl, and for the rest, giv the closest possibl approximàtion to the lexical form of the wurd as in the exampl of acsident rather than ak-suh-dunt.

2. How can lerners find the wurds in a dictionary when the initial letters ar not the same as the initial sound?
- for example, knock?

One dictionary provides a handy tàbl that sets out misleading initial letters and letter pairs. For your information, by the way, the list is incomplete - mòst alfabet letters can be misleading in initial place, and nearly two thirds could be solved if spelling simply dropped the misleading initial letters when thay ar really surplus as in ghost, guess, who, gnaw, knight, rhinoceros, write, scheme and who.

One dictionary solvs the problem by categorising wurds according to vowel sounds, and then setting them out alfabetically on each list, which is easy to scan down - but this is a specialised spelling dictionary, which dus not include definitions.

3. How to show English speech sounds that English spelling does not discriminàte.

English spelling ùses th for both this and thing, and has no distinctiv spelling for the sound 'oo' as in put, book and wolf.

Some dictionarys simply ignore these differences. Others màke distinctions such as dh as in this and th as in thin, oo as in book and ooh as in boot. One dictionary ùses thinner and thicker letter- shapes for th - th is thick as in thair, and thin as in thin. Strong OO as in boot is larger, weak oo as in book is smaller. These ar intuitively easy to understand, but ar not easy to copy or to type on a standard keyboard, However, this may be the mòst helpful way to distinguish these pronunciàtions in a dictionary, and again, it keeps the dictionary gìde looking similar to the real spelling.

Fourth - differences in dialect. What about English pronunciàtion gìdes internationally and in multicultural societies lìke ours, which has such a wide range of accents on the street? For children and English lerners pronunciàtion gìdes hav not so much a descriptive function as prescriptiv - a gìde to how thay can speak the wurds and be understood by the commùnity around them, and how, hearing the wurds or seeing them in print, thay can find them in the dictionary with how to speak them.

Well, in fact, pronunciàtion keys in dictionarys show how litl dialects and acsents really matter when it comes to spelling - and hence, it should follow, to spelling reform, where this is always raised as a reason why imprùvement is impossibl. Spelling is a standardised convention, lìke a line-sketch, and pèpl then pronounce it in thair òn dialect lìke thair òn individual fotograf - you could say an audio-sketch, contrasted with an audiògraf. There ar no problems in the spelling dog regardless of whether it is pronounced lìke dog/dawg/ or daag according to individùal accents. The pronunciàtion differences that do occur between English dictionarys and Australian ar in fact trivial.1 A general sort of broadband works. And this will apply in desiìning spelling imprùvement too.

The fifth and last important issue concerns the so-called long vowels A E I O U. Thay ar the biggest problem in English spelling - as well as for any attempts to màke it mor ùser-frendly. Long vowels hav the greatest number of different ways to spell them. The children's dictionary gìdes may spell them in some of the mor unusual ways - for example, uy oh ooh.

One dictionary ùses ligatùred letters, ai, ee, ie, oa, ue, which màke the spellings look shorter, though I gather there has been no reserch on whether this is tactic is wurth the trubl. The patterns, ai, ee, ie, oe, ue, ar common in real spelling, and so can màke the pronunciàtion gìdes look mor familiar - less strànge than as in, say, meg-uh-luh-may-nee-uh. It can still look rather odd with - for example mechooer, and oaaisis, even though that one resembles the real spelling better than oh-ay-sus.

I would lìke experiments that simply placed a grav accent as diacritic over long vowels - that is, the same letters as for short vowels, a e i o u, but with accents over them. This would achieve two things - align A E I O U with the short vowels a e i o u that thay so often toggle with in wurds lìke nàtion, national, fìnìte and infinite, and so help to visually clarify thair meaning and relationships. It would also be concise, unlìke than the present common clumsy 2-3 letter representations in dictionary gìdes. This tactic has seemed to work well in informal trial of pieces of text, but mor experiment is needed to see how intuitive and easy such a marking would be for children -

Conclusion - How ùseful for different categories of lerners, inclùding English-language lerners, ar the different ways to represent speech sounds in children's dictionarys? Reserch is needed if it dus not exist - I hav not found it.

But some things can be said.

1. Who is disadvantaged

The pronunciàtion gìdes of mòst children's dictionarys cater mor for the advantagd children in what thay assùme lerners alredy kno, and so leav out much that others will not kno. How can thay be made mòst helpful to those who need them mòst - the educationally disadvantaged children with small vocabularies and poor reading skills, and the non-nàtiv lerners of English language (EFL) - who now number mor than its nativ speakers?

The way to go may be to tri to màke the pronunciàtion gìde look as clòse to present English spelling as possibl. But how ùseful ar special caracters which ar lìke different fonts of the same letters. Ar ligatùrd letters wurth the bother?

2. The fùtùre

There ar many signs that informal spelling practices ar changing rapidly, and also that Anglo-American literacy crises ar by no means solved, and spelling difficulties ar proven to be implicated.

Many spelling reformers hav thought that the ideal way to begin spelling reform would be as a dictionary pronunciàtion key, becaùse it is completely fonemic. Children's dictionarys in many other modern countries need no pronunciàtion gìdes for vocabulary becaùse thair spelling is consistent. Nevertheless this is not so simple for designing mor ùser-friendly ëEnglish spelling for the English language. You can see from this that existing pronunciàtion keys for children's dictionarys would be clearly impossible candidates as spelling reform, altho the newer come the clòsest.

A dictionary pronunciàtion key might represent the first level of a spelling reform - the alfabetic principle of letters representing sounds, - but there ar good psycholinguistic reasons why this would be inadequate as a full reform. It is a practical necessity that any English spelling improvement must maintain the general appearance of present print. It must take into account the special features of the English language, and it must better match the needs and abilities of readers, spellers and lerners. That is, primarily, it must facilitate reading and writing by eye as well as by ear, and reading for meaning as well as representing the spoken language. This means a visual appearance for print that can show wurd relationships, wurd structure and grammar. (Appendix 2 notes the other five major principles for an English spelling improvement.)

There ar many reasons, including commercial, why it is in the interests of dictionarys to seek to promote spelling improvement that would promote wider literacy by reducing its difficulties. What an increasing demand for dictionarys there could then be, from the wide swathe of populations world-wide that currently cannot read well enough to ùse one.

1 There is an aurally còded spelling dictionary that dus hav to take account of dìalect because it categorìses spelling according to its pronunciàtion. It gets round this by plàcing wurds twìce, with markers to sho the Scottish pronunciàtions.

Explanations of the spelling changes are on the spelling reform pages.

If eny spelling attracts yur attention, consider how u would imprùve it for lerners.
If any spelling attracts your attention, consider how you would improve it for learners.
Consider also the functions of etimology - the origins of the wurds. Is this spoild by remuving spelling traps?
Consider also the functions of etymology - the origins of the words. Is this spoiled by removing spelling trraps?

The spelling here is bàsd on seven linguistic principls, which u may be àbl to wurk out.

And see BBC Text Guide to Pronunciation as a base for the Dictionary Key and Beginners First Learning in English Spelling Rules on One Page

For further notes on spelling:

1. Introduction

Introduction to spelling improvement. /spockham.htm. Text of a radio broadcast
Rationale. How assumptions and barriers against improving the writing system do not hold. Answering the common objections to spelling improvement. /sration.htm

2 Needs and abilities of users and learners: -

i. Needs and abilities of readers /sreadsp.htm
ii. Needs and abilities of writers to spell - /swritsp.htm
iii. Needs and abilities of learners - /slernsp.htm
iv. Needs and abilities of users of international English - /sintrnt.htm
v. Spelling reform for the Internet (an older page)

3. The nature and teaching of English spelling

See the online video,
The underlying English spelling system that could be made more consistent - /spelsys.htm
Spelling patterns for the English vowels - /svowchart.htm
The Book of Spells & Misspells
- a treasury of spelling for everyone
22 Lessons in reading and spelling - v01acover.htm
The 16 word spelling test for anyone who thinks they can spell - 16sp.htm
Spelling and classroom practices - sclassprac.htm

4 Improving English spelling

Spelling improvement. 2002. - /spelimp.html
Seven principles to repair English spelling, 2005 - /sp7princ.htm
Cutting out the surplus letters in words.Streamline - a first step in updating spelling. /ssurplu.htm
Quik gidelines for a next step, with sampl texts, and furthr notes /sfastrs.htm. FASTR Spelling
Cutting out surplus letters. /intspel.htm 2002
Further steps you can try yourself, with f, j, consistent word endings and vowel spellings. /intspel2.htm
Further experiments to spel sensibly - Pronunciation and gramr, and a final solusion? /intspel3.htm 2000
The future of English spelling. What can be done? /sfutspe.htm

5. Spelling as an entertainment

Spelling Games - starting with a Spelling ABC - different from a Spelling BEE
16-word Spelling Test of 16 common words that few experts can spell all correctly. /16sp.htm
International English Spelling Day, October 9 /spday.html
How people spelled when they spelled as they liked before the 18th century dictionaries /spfree17c.htm
Don Quixote spells in 'Spelling without traps'. - /spquixote.htm. To come
Twelve Short Short storys about the fùtùr. Can u imagin a mor ùser-frendly speling sistem? Look at every wurd to see if u think its speling is a trap for lerners. ^