“sh,” “th,” and “ee” are NOT “Blends”

According to an article in the Daily Mail, in the light of dropping test scores in English, the government is urging a return to “traditional lessons.”

I’d say it was about time. For one thing, the headline for the story contains a grammatical error:

After 13 years of Labour, one in three primary pupils are still failing the 3Rs

That should be “one in three primary pupils is still failing…”

The article mentions a need to return to “synthetic phonics”. Nothing wrong with that. Synthetic phonics is more effective than the “incidental phonics” currently in use. However, I have to doubt that the writer understands much about phonics when I read:

The system [synthetic phonics] teaches pupils to recognise the sounds of individual letters, and then blends of letters such as “sh”, “th” and “ee”.

The phonograms “sh” and “th” are not “blends.” They do not represent the blended sounds of s+h or t+h. “Sh” and “th” represent sounds that have nothing to do with either t, h, or s. “Sh” represents the sound heard in shine, and fish. “Th” can represent two sounds, the /th/ in thin, and the /th/ in this.

A “blend” is something quite different. A blend combines the sounds represented by the letters in it. For example, “cr” is a blend that combines the hard sound of c with the sound of r as in crook.

Contrary to what the education writer says in the article, “ee” is not a blend either. It is an alternate spelling of the long e sound heard in such words as me, she, team, and see.

Too bad British educators had to copy the disastrous “progressive” practices that have contributed to the mental crippling of American school populations ever since Dick and Jane hit the textbook shelves in the 1930s.

Daily Mail article

2 Responses

  1. @Greg,
    In writing for a general audience, chiefly U.S., I struggle with how best to present phonetic notation. When I studied English in England, my books used IPA. In the U.S., however, every dictionary and every text seems to prefer its own method. Few U.S. English teachers seem to be acquainted with IPA.

    I’ll be giving it some more thought.

  2. I wonder why more teachers don’t use the IPA alphabet. It’s consistent and it establishes a one-to-one relation between symbol and speech sound. In the case of English, there are only a few symbols that aren’t found in the English alphabet. Perhaps, some people will mistake the symbols within the forward slashes or brackets for letters from the alphabet.

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