Why the ‘A, B, C’ song is not helpful to beginner readers

Many young children learn to sing the ‘A, B, C’ song in nursery or at home. This song teaches them the names and the order of the letters of the alphabet. This is a great way to store the alphabetic order of letters in our long-term memory. I still use the alphabet song when using a dictionary! But what beginner readers need initially is to know the sound of the letters. Letter names can confuse and obstruct learning to read.

The most important skill when learning to read is the ability to ‘blend‘ (push together) sounds in words. In order to do this, beginner readers need to have an automatic recall of the sounds of the letters of the alphabet.

The ‘A, B, C’ song teaches letter names. Some children can handle learning both letter names and sounds together. But many children get confused as letter names do not help children remember the sound the letters represent.

In English most letter names and letter sounds do not sound the same. Take the letter ‘e’ for example. The letter name is ‘ee’. But the initial sound children need to know is ‘e’ like in ‘egg’.
When the child reads the letter ‘e’ they may confuse the two sounds. They may read a word like ‘fed’ as ‘feed’.

Here are some other examples:
The letter ‘y’: The letter name is ‘why’ which starts with the sound ‘w’ but the sound of the letter is ‘y’ as in ‘yellow’.

The letter ‘s’: The name is ‘es’ which starts with the sound ‘e’ not the sound ‘s’. And there are many more. In fact, only about 6 letter names can help children recall the letter sounds.

For beginner readers this may be very confusing. So we would recommend that WHILE beginner readers are learning the sounds of the alphabet, teachers should teach only the letter sounds. Once the child can recall the sounds of the alphabet confidently and automatically – only then should the use of letter names and the
‘A, B, C’ song be encouraged in class.

If you have comments on this recommendation or experience you can share, please do add them to this blog.

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