Why We Love Hearing Before Seeing

One concept that Orton-Gillingham tutors believe is the importance of developing phonological awareness skill sets together with phonics development, especially in students who are struggling.

What are phonemes?

Phonemes are the smallest part of spoken language that make a sound. They can be as small as one letter, for example “t”, “b”, “l”. Phonemes are the element of language that allows discrimination, and make a difference in the meaning of a specific word. For example, in the word “dog” and “jog”, only the one sound at the beginning differentiates these words so that they have different meaning; the “d” and the “j”. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate phonemes.

The idea of hearing before seeing has to do with students who are having trouble with the visual/auditory relationship. One of our Vancouver tutors states, “With my students, I find that if they come across a phonogram they haven’t learned yet when we’re doing our daily reading, they’ll either try to come up with some kind of sound or skip over it completely… which I guess also affects their confidence when it comes to learning.”

She goes on to explain, “I find that it is always easier for my students to hear the sound first; for example, when I am teaching my students a new phonogram, I won’t jump straight to showing them the phonogram (either written down, or on the visual deck card). Instead, I will choose words that share the same sound/phonogram without telling them the sound, and they then identify the common sound they hear.” One of the major components that determines a child’s readiness to learn to read is their understanding of how the sounds in a certain word work together. As in the dog/jog example above, children learn that words are made up of individual phonemes that help to make one word distinguishable from another word. Another example would be that the words cat, fat, and hat have the same phoneme sound “at” at the end of the word, but because of the initial phoneme difference, a listener interprets different meanings for each of these words.

Continuing on, our tutor explains, “We then proceed to identifying the new phonogram we’d be learning and emphasize that that is the sound it makes. Sometimes my students will try to think of words with a similar sound, but not the same phonogram; with this we might end up writing it on a whiteboard to look at and discuss the differences (same sound, but different phonogram).” Some examples of this would be words like “genes” and “jeans” where the “g” and the “j” make the same sound, or pear and pair, where the “ea” and “ai” make the same sound.

Since there are often cases of different phonemes making the same sound, and since not getting an unknown sound right on the first try can affect confidence, allowing a child to hear the sound before seeing it is a valuable teaching method to use.

Rob Wahl