What's in a sound ?

What's in a sound ?


Learning of a language must start with a firm understanding of the complexities of phonics, the building blocks of languages, writes KS Someswara.

The other day when I went to my daughter’s place, her younger child, a KG classer, started questioning me ‘what is the sound of the first letter in the word ‘Fan’? When I said it is ‘F’ she said an authentic ‘NO’. Her answer was it is ‘f’ (the sound as pronounced). Likewise she continued with many such words learnt at her school. She also started experimenting with many other words of the things around her (she used Kannada words too).

This made me curious about the teaching process in our kindergarten. It made me want to know more about this method of teaching language.
This way of learning stimulates phonic awareness for the preschoolers. As studied by various researchers this is one sure way to make a child ready to learn and read with correct pronunciations. Here are some of the steps suggested by the expert Marilyn Jagar Adams and others. Through these activities, children in elementary classes can have a stimulative development of phonic awareness.

Listening to sequences of sound

With this exercise, children will develop memory and attention abilities. They can also be stimulated for thinking about sequences of sounds and language. Objects which make interesting and distinctive sounds like banging on wall, blowing a horn, clapping or ringing of bell are used here. The children are asked to hear them with closed eyes and to identify one sound at a time. After more practice, they are asked to identify them in a sequence.


This exercise is to develop children’s ability to differentiate between what they expect and what they actually hear. In this method, the facilitator will read/sing a popular story or a poem. Children are made to hear them with utmost concentration. The recitation of story/poem should be clear and loud. While repeating the story/poem, change the word or sense occasionally. The child should be made to detect such changes whenever they occur. They should be encouraged to find out the wrong one. This will sharpen their awareness of phonology, syntax, and semantics of language.

Eg: Song a sing of six pence (interchange words)
Baa baa purple sheep
(substitute the word)
One two buckle by shoe
(replace sounds)    
 Five six pick up sticks
(switch order of events)

Clapping Names

This is to introduce the children to the nature of syllables. They are asked to clap and count syllables of their own names. Children pronounce a name, syllable by syllable, while clapping. For each name make them count number of syllables by clapping for each syllable and counting. This will increase children’s awareness of initial phonics.
Understanding phonemes

To enhance the child’s awareness of initial phonemes, children are asked to compare, contrast, and identify the initial sound in a variety of words. This can be done by using picture cards. They are asked to pick the cards with same initial syllable and keep them separately. Phonemes are the sounds that sound similar like ‘p’ and ‘b’, and ‘t’
and ‘d’.

Analysis or taking the sound away

This activity will help the child to identify the words with their meaning (for eg: ‘f’ in fear. Here if ‘f’ is removed then it will be ‘ear’.) By such a process, children get acquainted with various phonics. They will also observe that the absence of initial sound in a word can give a different word with a different meaning.

Synthesis or adding a sound

This will be a process of synthesizing words from their separate sounds. Here, children are asked to form a new word by adding a sound to another word.
To begin with, simple two-letter words can be familiarized to them, and with practice, they can do the same with more complex words.

[TIP: Help the children to understand and analyse words into sounds and to synthesize the words from sounds. This can be done by using blocks. It will help them learn the logic behind difficult phonic analysis and synthesis activities.]

In all these activities, the facilitators (teachers) should see that every child is involved and performs individually. This will help in assessing the learning levels of each child. In all these activities, children are made to sit in a semi-circular form as was done a few decades ago when grandparents/elders narrated interesting stories to the younger kids in a family. This way, children will benefit from concentrated hearing, without distraction.

Because it is all in the sound to help the child understand the true basics of any language.