"Phonetics" is derived from the Greek word for sound or voice and refers to the sounds produced by the human voice in spoken language. Spelling phonetically refers to representing the sounds heard in a word with their corresponding letters. Although it may sound like a great idea, the English language does not follow a strict letter-sound correspondence and is not considered a phonetic language. It has many exceptions and variations in spelling. For those who are learning the English language or young children just learning to represent words and thoughts in writing, phonetic spelling is common.
Teach (or learn) the sounds commonly created by each letter of the alphabet. If the letter makes more than one sound, this must be taught too. (See resources for chart.)
Listen carefully to the sounds in a word. Initially you may be unable to hear the vowel sounds or may confuse vowels. This is normal. Say the word slowly and clearly to help break apart the sounds.
Write what you hear. If you have difficultly, repeat the sound and then determine which letter makes that sound. Some are easier to identify than others. "O" and "V" are often confused. Some may write "ov" for "of" and "haf" instead of "have." "K" is commonly used in place of "C" and "G" often replaces "X" in phonetic spelling. The sounds are close and take some time to identify.
Your spelling is acceptable as long as it reasonably represents the word and is recognizable to another reader. The goal initially is to communicate a thought or idea to the reader. Phonetic spelling serves as the vehicle to developing communication skills and provides the means to express thoughts and ideas before the nuances of the language are acquired.
Gradually introduce spelling rules, variant spellings and more complex sounds in order to develop appropriate spelling skills. Phonetic spelling may be acceptable for young children and those who are new to the language but will hinder the reading process and compromise communication if it continues past the initial stage of learning written language.
- Slavic languages are phonetic languages with a letter to represent each sound. Spelling requires simply writing the letter that represents the sound.
- In the English language, more than one letter can represent the same sound, and one letter can represent several sounds. How letters are combined alter the sounds they represent.
Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.