Don't Teach Silent H

Chaucers Knight

Chaucer’s Knight

The mastery of English spelling is difficult enough without the hocus-pocus about “silent” letters.

Take the word knight. Do you teach the learner that the k, the g, and the h are “silent”? Or do you teach the easily remembered phonograms kn and igh?

If you take the latter approach, the learner can listen to the word knight, hear the three speech sounds in it, and write it with the three sound symbols kn, igh, and t.

Kn is a variant spelling for the sound represented by the single letter n. Igh is a variant spelling for the long sound of the single vowel letter i. Teach igh as “3-letter i.”

Teaching children only the 26 letters of the alphabet leads to confusion. You must teach them the 26 single letters and the variant spellings.

Here are eleven single consonant letters that represent distinct speech sounds, together with some variant spellings that represent the same sounds:

F as in fan. Variant: ph as in phantom

G as in get, hug. Variant: gh as in ghost.

J as in jet. Variant: g as in gypsy, dge as in fudge.

K as in kite. Variant: c as in cat, ck as in luck.

L as in lap. Variant: ll as in full.

M as in man. Variant: mb as in lamb.

N as in nut. Variant: mn as in mnemonic, kn as in knot, gn as in gnome, pn as in pneumonia.

R as in ran. Variant: wr as in write,

S as in sit. Variant: c as in cent, ss as in miss,

V as in van. Variant: f as in of.

Z as in zebra. Variant: x as in xylophone.

Note: The letter X does not have a sound of its own. At the end of a word, the letter represents two sounds /ks/ run together:  six, fox, and tax.

When x stands at the beginning of a word, it is a variant spelling for the sound represented by the letter z: xylophone. The letter x within the word Xerxes represents the combined sounds of /k/ and /s/:  /zerk-sēz/.

English spelling is more challenging than that of some other modern languages, but it is not beyond the learning ability of most ordinary English-speakers.