Do you sound the ‘R’ at the end? The topic of conversation when I connected with Nora from EBLI recently. It was a happy accident due to Nora sharing my blends infographic.
If you haven’t checked out EBLI — you should. EBLI stands for Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction. Nora is a passionate educator who wants to teach the world to read!
Nora noted that the word star is not three sounds as the poster says but four. She’s right, but so am I! Confused? How we speak changes how we perceive grapheme-phoneme correspondences. The world is awash with accents. It is possible that in your class of 30, you have 20+ accents. Your own children might have different accents to you. Mine do — they are Australian.
So, what is an accent and is it the same as a dialect?
Accent is the way we pronounce words.
Dialect can be how we pronounce words, but it is mostly about vocabulary and grammar.
We all have an accent — how we pronounce words, and we all have words and possibly some grammar from our background that isn’t standard — this is dialect.
Accent: My kids walk down a parth to barth in a carstle, but I would certainly be walking on a path to bath in a castle with no Rs. My students and own kids love that I bult the door, and they bolt the door.
Dialect: I come from North England, and even though I say the word head with a /h/ sound if I am scratching my head or bang my head, but I delete the ‘H’ when I am a little frustrated and possibly tired and bothered by something — something does my ‘ead in! There is now no /h/ in the word head. My kids laugh at this expression that both myself and my husband use. It slips out occasionally. On the other hand, my kids can’t drop the /h/ without it sounding awkward. They try and fail, and we all laugh. I call the strip of concrete we walk on the pavement, but my kids call it the path. I also sleep under a duvet and wear flip-flops. They sleep under a doona and wear thongs.
Accent and dialect are a patchwork quilt of sounds and words that fill the air. We should be aware of this when teaching.
When teaching sound-spelling correspondences, we should teach to the standard but also work with the mixed bag of accents and dialects. So in your classroom, there is probably a mixed bag that needs to be supported. We teach to the standard but pointing out how other students might say and hear words is crucial to scaffold support. If we only ever teach the standard accent or our own, we effectively penalise learners. A teacher who helps a child switch between their native tongue and the classroom helps level the playing field.
Is star three sounds or four? That depends on where you come from!
This is the poster
The word star has three sounds on my original poster, not four. /s/ /t/ /ar/ For me, star rhymes with car and far. The end of these words sounds a bit like when a doctor asks you to say ahhhhhh when you stick your tongue out.
The standard pronunciation is found in a good dictionary, but many accents differ from the standard. A dictionary pronunciation is to show the standard pronunciation. It is not a guidebook for how to speak.
/stɑː/ British standard — 3 sounds ref. Oxford Dictionary
/stär/ American standard — 4 sounds ref. Merriam Webster
Many don’t sound the ‘R’ in Australia and England because Australian and most British accents are primarily non-rhotic. That means we don’t pronounce the ‘R’ after a vowel — often at the end of words, sometimes in the middle, like hard and cart. Or another way of putting it — the ‘R’ is deleted.
Many American, Canadian and Scottish accents are rhotic. They sound the ‘R’ in words like ‘star’. We don’t need to talk about bossy ‘R’. We just need students to listen to how they say words and use that knowledge when spelling. If you do say the ‘R’, it can help spelling if we teach students to listen and respond. A movable alphabet helps students link phonemes to graphemes.
A non-rhotic accent deletes the R. Non-rhotic speakers say fewer sounds because they delete the R sound.
bear b ear /b/ /ear/
ear ear /ear/ or possibly /ea/ /uh/
car c ar /c/ /ar/
warm /w/ /or/ /m/
Rhotic accents sound the R in words such as bear and large. The R sound is an extra speech sound in rhotic accents.
bear b ea r /b/ /ai/ /r/
ear ea r /ee/ /r/
car /c/ /a/ /r/ or /c/ /o/ /r/
warm /w/ /o/ /r/ /m/ /w/ /oa/ /r/ /m/
Neither is right or wrong, and there will be lots more variation too.
I use a movable alphabet with all my students to see how sounds link to graphemes. It is a brilliant resource and adaptable to your student’s needs — if they sound the ‘R’, use the ‘R’ tile to show them how their sounds connect to graphemes. If they don’t say the ‘R’, use the tiles that show the letter ‘R’ connected to the vowel. This helps to develop good spelling habits. And it should go without saying that students should write words and sentences after using a movable alphabet. Handwriting unifies learning about sounds and letters with hand-eye coordination.
So, I made Nora two new posters to show differences in accent. They are free — go here
To read more about rhoticity, read this interesting, short science paper.
Head on over to this article from Thought co. It features two of my favourite language experts. Peter Trudgill and Willam Labov.
To read more about language variation, go here.