Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Should We Be Teaching Phonetics in K12?

Phonics you say?  Nope.  Not phonics.  I'm pretty sure Hooked on Phonics screwed me over for life.  To this day I read aloud in my head.  I literally cannot read with out hearing my own voice say the words out loud in my head.  It's kinda sad actually.  I know many people who just read, without hearing voices, and understand the information.  It's magical.  I cannot even begin to understand what that would be like.

But we're not talking phonics here.  We're talking phonetics.

What is phonetics you might ask.  Phonetics is the study and classification of speech sounds.  There are two major phonetic alphabets, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and the American Phonetic Alphabet (APA).  The difference between these alphabets and the alphabet we teach in school is that each symbol only represents one sound.  

How is that different you might ask?  Well, for our traditional alphabet, the letter k can represent several sounds.  It might be silent... it be be vocalized. Don't even get me started with the vowels.  The vowel a can be long and short... and I still don't understand the difference.  Depending on what word it is in and where it is placed within that word, it would be pronounced differently.  With the phonetic alphabet, each symbol represents one and only one sound. It's a simpler system to learn.

Even better, the article "Texting Improves Children's Spelling and Grammar" discusses a study that found "Texting may improve children’s spelling and grammar because using abbreviations such as ‘gr8’ makes them think about language phonetically."  While texting itself is not using the phonetic alphabet, it is more centered around sounds.  By using abbreviations in texting, students and adults are thinking more deeply about language and it's patterns.  Isn't that a good thing?

So why not allow text lingo in school?  Why not teach the IPA alongside or even before the traditional English alphabet?  Obviously others argue that it is not as practical.  These people would say that it doesn't prepare them for the Standard American English that they need to use in college and the work place.  True, but is that a legitimate argument against teaching IPA in addition to the traditional English alphabet?  Probably not.  We should encourage deep, critical thinking not just memorization.  When students are learning and using the IPA and/or text lingo, they are examining their knowledge about language and learning the patterns that exist in their language.  More so, it's an equalizer between native English speakers and English Language Learners.  If all the IPA does is focus on sounds and their patterns, native speakers and language learners should be on more of an even playing field.  Both can examine sounds in any language.  After all, that's one way they know the difference between their language and another.

Perhaps we do need to start teaching the IPA in American schools.  It seems as though the cognitive, social, and academic benefits outweigh the cons. Well...we should at least start with allowing text lingo in our classes.