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. It’s a great way to store the alphabetic order of letters in our long-term memories. I still use the alphabet song when using a dictionary! However, what beginner readers need initially is to know the sounds 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. However, many get confused: in English, most letter names and letter sounds are not the same. Letter names do not help children to remember the sounds the letters represent.

Take the letter ‘e’, for example: its name is pronounced ‘ee’, but the initial sound children need to know is /e/ as 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:

  • Y: The letter name is pronounced ‘why’, which starts with the sound /w/, but the sound of the letter is /y/ as in ‘yellow’.
  • S: The letter name is pronounced ‘ess’, which starts with the sound /e/, but the sound of the letter is /s/ as in ‘sand’.

There are many more. In fact, only about six letter names can help children to recall the letter sounds.

For beginner readers, this may be very confusing. We recommend that, while beginner readers are learning the sounds of the alphabet, teachers should teach only the letter sounds. Only once a child can recall the sounds of the alphabet confidently and automatically 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.


  1. Yes, I agree with what you say. It is important that whilst learning to sing the sequence of the alphabet, initially at home or in pre-school or nursery school, children do not associate what they are singing with any letters. We should first teach the sounds of the letters relating sound to letter, and once these have been internalised by the learners, between the ages of 4 and 6, they can then associate the letters in the song with the letters of the alphabet. Learning the sequence of 26 letters is quite a feat, and 6 or 7 year olds will find it more difficult to learn the sequence at that age.
    Early years children have an amazing capacity for new learning!

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