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HOW TO LEARN TO READ
THE ENGLISH METHOD OF TEACHING TO READ
A. SONNENSCHEIN AND J. M. D. MEIKLEJOHN
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
The Nursery Book, 3d.; Sewed, ld.
Reading Sheets on Roller, size 39 × 26, 6s.
The First Course, 7d.; The Second Course, 7d.; The Third and Fourth Courses, 7d.
J. R. BLAKISTON, Esq., H.M. Chief Inspector of Schools, in his book, The Teacher, says: "One of the most successful teachers of reading to infants attributes her wonderful results to the following system. She takes a class of four-year old children and makes them sound accurately after her all the voices or powers of each vowel regularly used in English. The teacher referred to uses Sonnenschein and Meiklejohn's English Method of Teaching to Read."
Another H.M.I. writes: "Results surprising. I consider it the only method of securing fluent reading."
HOW TO LEARN TO READ.
THE ONLY TRUE METHOD.-"A most interesting lecture was given on Wednesday afternoon at the Sesame Club by Mr. A. Sonnenschein on the proper method for teaching to read English; and so convincing was the exposition that it is nothing short of astounding to learn that, although this method was known thirty years ago to Mr. W. E. Forster, who fully admitted its claim on the most serious attention of the educational authorities of the country, yet it is to-day only known to comparatively few, instead of being, as it unquestionably should be, the accepted method in every elementary school in the country. For Mr. Sonnenschein not only claims, but has himself proved experimentally that the claim is well founded, that by it the process of learning to read fluently should occupy some five or six months only, whereas it commonly takes not less than three or four years.
"METHOD DETERMINED BY LANGUAGE.-The lecturer began by explaining that there are three ways of teaching reading: (1) the Literal,' or reading by spelling the whole word; (2) the Syllabic' or 'phonic' method; (3) the 'Verbal,' or 'look-and-say' method in which the complete words are learned by sight. The question which of these is the proper one to adopt is determined by the language of the learner. Thus Italian, the spelling of which is practically phonetic, or German, which is largely phonetic, is best taught by the 'literal' method, because the individual letters being the true elements of the words, represent sounds derived from and based upon the child's own speech. The teacher of Italian, for example, may show the pupil a picture of a donkey, and ask its name. The child answers asino.' By slow, deliberate pronunciation and analysis of sounds, the teacher can resolve the word into its elemental sounds a, s, i, n, o. The child has now learnt the symbols of three of the five vowels and of two consonants. And now the teacher can build up the familar Italian words:--Si, no, io, sino, sano, sono, naso, &c., and even short sentences such as 'Io non so,' 'Nina non sa. Although German is not equally simple, the same principle governs the teaching-the principle being the gradual introduction of words by which the whole alphabet is taught first functionally, and not till afterwards by the names of the letters. Italian children, as a matter of fact, learn to read in about three months, and German children in less than eight.
"THE ENGLISH METHOD IS SYLLABIC.-In a language like English or French, where simple sounds are often represented by combinations of letters, the true elements of words so far as the spelling is concerned are syllables; and the 'Syllabic' method is indispensable. Mr. Sonnenschein showed by examples that the French child has a harder task
than the English in learning to read, yet he accomplishes the task to which we devote three or four years at least, in twelve months. It is a great mistake to suppose that English spelling is exceptionally full of anomalies. They are much more numerous in French. English presents a large mass of phenomena, but they fall easily into classification, the exception to rule being in reality rare. To teach the English child to read, the teacher must present to the learner in systematic and graduated sequence all the phenomena of English reading and spelling.
"HOW TO TEACH THE ALPHABET.—The old-fashioned way of teaching the alphabet is a fundamental mistake. The names of the letters are essentially misleading. 'Ay tea' (A.T.) cannot rationally be made to coalesce into 'At'; nor 'Aitch ay tea' into 'Hat.' Phonetically these combinations would make 'Ate' and 'Hate.' But the chief objection to the current method is the impossibility of distinguishing the sounds of our English vowels without an accompanying consonant. As, therefore, the functions of the vowels can only be taught when joined to consonants, we are driven to accept the 'syllabic method' in teaching English reading.
"In order to present a graduated course of study in which the phenomena of the language are classified, Mr. Sonnenschein divides the subject into four well-defined sections or courses. The first of these consists of short vowels with only one consonant after on or both sides of it, as in 'at,' 'cat,' &c. In this first course the child learns some six hundred monosyllabic words with only very few anomalies, and these few can be arranged in categories. Thus in the series 'at, et, it, ot, ut,' the child becomes acquainted with fifty-one complete words and fortyseven syllables forming parts of other words to be learnt afterwards; and in all these ninety-eight combinations of letters there is only a single anomaly of pronunciation, viz., put,' and this anomaly itself takes its place in a further classification with such words as push, pull, bull, full, &c. Moreover, the child is made acquainted with that peculiar English feature, the influence of letters on their neighbours. Thus the w' and 'qu' regularly alter the sound of an 'a' and sometimes of an 'o' following them. Compare, for instance, the sound of 'bar' with 'war,' 'harm' with 'warm,' and 'lash' with 'wash' and 'quash.'
"THE NEXT STEP.-Then comes a second course, still of short vowels with combinations of consonants on either or both sides of it, e.g., 'flat,' 'grip,' 'sent,' 'spent,' 'stand,' 'strand,' &c. This course makes the child acquainted with from six to seven hundred words, with only about sixteen anomalies. Up to this point the young reader has mastered some fifteen hundred words with not more than two per cent. of deviations from regularity.
"The third course introduces the learner to long vowels. teacher points out that if the vowel precedes the consonant it is always short, as the 'a' in 'absent'; while if it follows it, it is almost always long, as the 'a' in 'basin.' If the vowel preceding the consonant is intended to be long, this is indicated by a mute 'e' after the consonant: cf. 'hat,' 'hate'; 'met,' 'mete'; 'pin, pine.' In five hundred words coming under this category there are only fifteen exceptions. The sum
total so far for two thousand words gives no more than three per cent. of excptions. So much for the supposed irregularity of English.
"The fourth and last course deals with double vowels and diphthongs, and it is here that the chief difficulty is met. But even here classification, which means simplification, is possible; and children who have mastered the first three courses, generally get over this last course in about a month or six weeks. When they have done so, they have learnt to read. There remain a certain number of anomalous words coming under no rule, e.g., 'beauty,' 'aisle,' 'choir, 'lieutenant,' 'colonel.' These have to be learnt when they occur, just like proper names. The number of them is not large.
"READING AND WRITING.-Like all scientific educationists, Mr. Sonnenschein insists on the necessity of teaching reading and writing concurrently. They are complementary processes. The child should
in the first instance use the printed characters; and since the syllabic method necessitates the training of the child to pronounce clearly every component syllable of each word, it has the enormous incidental advantage of producing distinctness of speech.
"WORD-BUILDING AND ANALYSIS.-When children engage in promiscuous reading as they quickly do when taught by this methodthey come across long words of many syllables. These present little difficulty if the learners have been trained in word-building and wordanalysis-i.e., breaking up words into their component syllables. Thus having mastered at an early stage such a word as 'point,' the child finds no difficulty in building up successively 'appoint,' 'dis-ap-point,' 'dis-ap-point-ment.' Or, to take a more difficult example, he has learnt the elementary sounds 'ar' and 'arc'; he has also learnt that an 'e' added to this has the effect of softening the 'c' and modifying the sound of the 'a,' and he is thus easily led to 'scarce' and 'scarcely.'
"VERY SIMPLE IN PRACTICE.-This may all look complicated and diffi cult when formally described; but in actual practice it is simplicity itself. And, after all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Mr. Sonnenschein lately showed the work of a boy taught by this method to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools at the Education Office, and this high educational official, amazed at the results exhibited, was utterly incredulous when assured that the boy in question was by no means a pupil of exceptional ability. This child began to learn to read on February 14th of the present year, with the first course described above-at, et, it, ot, ut. By the end of the month he could read, and write from dictation (not copying) such sentences as 'Do not push my kid into the bush.' After two months' teaching he could similarly write correctly from dictation a sentence of such questionable accuracy as From London to Chatham and Dover is a quick run and quickly over.' On May 3rd he spontaneously produced an original composition in the shape of a little story; and by the middle of June—i.e., after four months from commencing his lessons in reading, he was able to take up and read with ease any page of a distinctly advanced collection of stories which included selections from Grimm's Tales.
"Mr. Sonnenschein insists that this is no exceptional case in his experience. No average English boy, if taught by the proper method, should take more than five or six months in learning to read with complete fluency up to the standard of his thought-capacity.
public elementary schools go blundering on with teaching that takes years to produce inferior results; and the School Board spends its energy in fighting for extension of the school age, or for continuation classes for children whose years have been stupidly wasted by labouring to acquire the elements through unscientific and obsolete methods of learning."
A WORD TO SCHOOL BOARD ELECTORS
"The lecture delivered at the Sesame Club by Mr. Sonnenschein, reported in another column, comes at an opportune moment on the eve of the elections for the London School Board. We commend it to the serious attention of that numerous body of electors who sincerely desire to obtain a Board that will do something for the furtherance of efficient elementary education, but who are at a loss to discover any clear-cut principle making for that end in the professions of candidates of either party, or in the purposeless wrangling that forms the staple of School Board electioneering. Whatever else Progressives and Moderates may dispute about, it is, by the common consent of all, the first duty of the Board Schools to teach the children to read and write. At present the art of reading is only acquired after some three or four years of schooling, and even then it is often imperfectly and unintelligently mastered. The contrast presented by the Continent in this respect is not creditable to English intelligence. Italian children learn to read easily in three or four months, and French and German children in less than a year. English is not a more difficult language for a native to learn to read than German, and is distinctly less difficult than French. Why do our boys and girls take three or four times longer to learn than the children of the Continent? Simply because our method of teaching is utterly unscientific. Mr. Sonnenschein has elaborated a system which is scientific; in which simplification is the result of classification; and he has found by experience that average English children taught by his method can learn to read in six or seven months with greater ease and fluency than the Board School pupil in three or four years. This is not a matter that can be dismissed as the theory of a faddist. It is a simple fact proved by experiment. And in view of the experience of the Continent it is not surprising. The length of time consumed in learning to read in this country requires explanation. Why, then, has Mr. Sonnenschein's method not been adopted long ago in every elementary school? When an inventor makes a contrivance for hastening locomotion or improving lighting it is taken in hand and applied to those purposes. When we are shown how to save time and labour in educa