'The way most of us learn to spell in English makes no sense'

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Reading between the lines
Reading between the lines

The way most of us learn to spell in English makes little sense.

If you, like many of us, were taught in the traditional way that "one letter makes one sound", think about the different pronunciations of the letter "a" in "ant", "banana", "zebra", "swan" and "ball". Imagine how confusing these differences can be for a youngster who is just learning to read?

If spelling and reading in English are difficult for children whose mother tongue is English, just imagine how much harder it is for kids learning in their second or third language?

The good news is that there is help out there, the reading and spelling programme known as THRASS. 

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First established in the United Kingdom, THRASS (which stands for "teaching handwriting, reading and spelling skills") is changing young lives from Gauteng to the Eastern Cape, helping learners to quickly become fluent and read with meaning in English.

Asking children to memorise whole words can be tough and often leads to confusion and reading without understanding, says Mojaki Finger, managing director of the SMME Next Level Learning, the distributor for THRASS in South Africa.

Finger explains that the programme helps children understand the building blocks of the English language. Because the 26 letters of the English alphabet "don’t make a sound until they are in a word", THRASS focuses on 24 "consonant sounds" and 20 "vowel sounds".

At the heart of the programme is a colourful, child-friendly phonics chart, showing the link between the 26 letters of the alphabet and the 44 speech sounds of spoken English and 120 "key spellings" in written English.

This chart shows children that letters can make different sounds, depending on the "job" they do in different words, says Finger. 

Find a link to free THRASS resources below.

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The programme also comprises helpful teacher guides and fun learner workbooks, all aligned to the South African curriculum.

"THRASS has the potential to transform young people’s lives. We have a crisis in this country, where only about 22% of learners in Grade 4 are able to read for meaning, but with THRASS, children’s ability to read develops very quickly."

THRASS has also proven helpful for kids with dyslexia, deaf children can also benefit greatly, notes Lynette Diederichs, a facilitator and tutor at voluntary association Cued Speech SA and profoundly deaf herself.

She says while learners in her class were easily accessing South African Sign Language, they struggled to grasp the phonology and vocabulary of English. Around the time she discovered the Cued Speech system (which uses handshapes that stand for different sounds to help deaf people make out words when lip reading), she also heard about THRASS.

Using the programme in conjunction with Cued South African English has proven successful to help develop deaf learners' literacy in a three-year pilot project facilitated by the Centre for Deaf Studies at Wits University.

The South African Council for Educators endorses the system. 

"If you’re literate, you can make sense of the world – you can contribute to the world. For me, that is really what this is all about," Finger concludes.

Find free THRASS resources for parents and teachers here: THRASS Africa

Submitted to Parent24 by THRASS. 

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