We’ve had a number of questions over the years from people interested in using Logic of English in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and other countries that use UK English. They wondered whether the materials are compatible and what adaptations might be needed to accommodate differences in spelling and pronunciation.
The short answer is that the phonograms and spelling rules are not unique to American English; they describe how written English works across the globe! Many people are using Logic of English in English-speaking countries around the world and finding it helpful and relevant for their students. To learn more about why the phonograms and rules work across regional accent variations, see our article The Phonograms and Spelling Rules Around the World.
However, we’ve continued to think about what concepts might benefit from tweaks or additional clarification in a UK English context. Some of you have written in with great ideas and questions. As we’ve researched, pondered, and listened to your input, we’ve come up with some ideas we think may be helpful.
We are still learning. If you are using Logic of English materials and you speak British/Australian/other Commonwealth English, please take a look at the ideas in this post, try them out, and let us know what you think!
Teach the way it’s spelled and pronounced where you live
Phonograms: Always teach the sound each phonogram represents in your students’ speech. Use the sample words on the back as a guide.
While most sounds of the phonograms are pronounced the same or very similarly across the world, some variations do exist, especially in the vowels. The curriculum is designed to work across accents; this is why we use sample words rather than IPA as pronunciation guides. The curriculum is not teaching one "correct" pronunciation, but the relationship between the written phonograms and their sounds in speech.
Spelling words: There aren't many words that are spelled differently, but when you come to one, teach it with the spelling you use. If it’s spelled the same but the rules apply differently because of a difference in pronunciation, analyze the rules and phonograms as they apply.
Phonogram cues: In Logic of English curriculum, whenever you are teaching a word with a sound that can be spelled multiple ways, you provide a verbal cue to let the student know which option to choose. You may find the need to provide this clarification on different sounds than a US teacher would, but the principle is the same for any accent: If there is more than one choice that makes that sound, you need to let the student know which phonogram to use.
While many people in Commonwealth countries have taught Logic of English successfully without adapting the concepts, the following adjustments may be beneficial.
The Phonogram OUR
OUR saying /er/ is taught as an Advanced Phonogram in Logic of English, since it is rare in US spelling. (It is found in a small number of words such as journal, journey, and flourish.) Since it is an Advanced Phonogram, it is not introduced until late in the curriculum.
Teach OUR as a Basic Phonogram. When you teach a word that uses this spelling in the UK, in the US, such as colour or neighbor, teach the UK version.
This phonogram is used more frequently in UK spelling than in US spelling, including in the common words favour, colour, harbour, and neighbour. It should therefore be taught as a basic phonogram.
If using Foundations: Introduce in Foundations C, Lesson 84, after the other spellings of /er/ - or at any point before Lesson 112.
If using Essentials: Introduce in Unit 8, before teaching the Level C spelling word harbour, or in Unit 12. If using level A or B, consider adding the word journal, from level C, to your lesson 12 spelling list to provide practice with this phonogram.
Apply Spelling Rule 12.4 to words like centre
Logic of English Spelling Rule 12.4 says that we add a silent E because “Every syllable must have a written vowel.” In the curriculum, we apply this rule to words like table, purple, eagle, and puzzle.
When you teach this rule, incorporate words where an E is added after an R, such as centre, fibre, and sombre.
Include words ending in -re when teaching Spelling Rule 12.4: Foundations Lesson 106, or Essentials Unit 18. You will find a teacher tip in Essentials about this when Rule 12.4 is taught.
Final R: Overview and Background
One of the most noticeable differences in pronunciation between American and British English involves a final R.
American English pronunciation is rhotic, meaning that a consonant /r/ sound is heard when an R falls after a vowel. (The name comes from “rho,” the name of the Greek letter representing the sound /r/.)
However, many UK English dialects today are non-rhotic, meaning that an R that falls after a vowel (a “postvocalic /r/”) is not pronounced as a consonant. Although a consonant /r/ will be heard if the next sound in the word is also a vowel (think foreign or boring), in most contexts the R will be silent (car, earn, bird), or pronounced as a slight schwa sound (near, care, soar).
For example, compare the following words:
|No audible /r/||Audible /r/ (in many UK dialects)|
|far beyond||far away|
Dropping these /r/ sounds is actually a change in UK English speech. Many scholars think non-rhotic pronunciation developed in the eighteenth century. It may have started earlier in some regions and then became standard over the course of the eighteenth century. But before this change, the post-vocalic /r/ was typically pronounced.
Regardless of when the change occurred, non-rhotic pronunciation is standard today in most of England, Australia, New Zealand, Wales, and South Africa today, among other places.
For some students, this may make sounding out words that end in R, such as clear and more, slightly more tricky. However, my sense in speaking with Commonwealth English speakers is that students are still aware of the R in these words, since they add it in words like clearing and moreover. So I think many will not find it too hard to break these words into their sounds (/k-l-ē-r/, /m-ō-r-silent final E/). Just make sure to support your students in segmenting these words if they have any trouble.
Final R: Suggestions if students struggle
Final R in the phonograms AR, OR, IR, ER, UR, OUR, EAR
The R-controlled phonograms themselves need no modification; simply teach students the sound they represent in your speech. If you use a non-rhotic pronunciation, teach the phonogram that way. Use the sample words on the back of the Basic Phonogram Flash Cards for guidance if you are uncertain of the phonogram’s sound.
However, you might want to consider adding additional information to the schwa rule to clarify how it applies to these phonograms if you find that students are having trouble with recognizing the R-controlled vowels at the ends of words.
Spelling Rule 31.1: Any vowel may say one of the schwa sounds, /ŭ/ or /ĭ/, in an unstressed syllable or unstressed word. This includes the R-controlled vowels AR, OR, ER, UR, and OUR.
In non-rhotic English dialects, these phonograms often say a schwa sound when found in an unstressed syllable. calendar, doctor, dancer, murmur, colour
Omit Spelling Rule 31.3: AR and OR may say their schwa sound, /er/, in an unstressed syllable.
Not needed, because words to which it applies are explained by the modified form of 31.1.
Final R after a long vowel
When an R comes after a vowel that should say a long sound — whether a multi-letter vowel such as ee or igh, or a single vowel with a silent E — the /r/ is not simply silent. Instead, it often has an effect on the preceding vowel. It may change the shape (and thus the sound) of it, or it may slightly lengthen the vowel. In many cases it is also slightly audible as well, either with a subtle /r/ or by adding a slight schwa sound. Compare tea and tear or snow and snore, for example.
It may be worth helping students notice the pattern of what these silent R’s do to preceding vowels, so that it becomes easier for them to hear where it is present. If you find that simply supporting them as they segment words like this is not enough and they are struggling to recognize the sounds when they are distorted before an R, you could lead them through an activity such as the following.
If needed: discover the pattern
Provide students the following list of words. (If teaching this lesson before students have learned all the multi-letter vowel phonograms used, provide only the pairs that include phonograms they have learned.)
Read the following pairs of words. Underline the vowels.
steak ___ bear
paid ___ pair
rein ___ their
cane ___ care
What vowel sound do you hear in the words in the first column? (Long /ā/).
What vowel sounds do you hear in the words in the second column? (Answers vary).
What do you notice about the vowels in the second column? (They are all spelled the same as vowels in the first column. They should say /ā/, but the sound is a little bit different. They all sound similar to each other.)
Help students compare these vowel sounds. Notice what the “true” sound of the phonogram is, what it says before R, and how these two sounds are similar and different. Have them try saying the words that end in R with the "true" sound of the vowel. Notice that they are difficult to pronounce this way.
Continue with additional vowel sounds.
heat ___ hear
cheek ___ cheer
protein ___ weird
athlete ___ revere
white ___ wire
hide ___ hire
soul ___ pour
oat ___ oar
stone ___ store
cute ___ cure
south ___ sour
Guide students to notice: the R shifts the pronunciation of each vowel. The shift happens no matter which phonogram was used to spell the vowel sound. The sound is related to the “usual” sound that the phonogram should say, but it is distorted by the R in a way that makes the word easier to pronounce.
Broad /a/ - how many sounds?
I’ve left the trickiest one for last. This is a question we continue to ponder and to learn about as we talk with English speakers and English teachers from around the world.
At Logic of English we teach three sounds of the phonogram a: /ă/ as in mat, /ā/ as in table, and /ä/ as in father. However, occasionally we get questions from UK English speakers, or even people from some parts of the U.S., who have noticed that the sound they say in father is not the same as what they say in wash, or perhaps in author or awe or caught — all of which we categorize as a broad a sound, /ä/. Aren't these different sounds, they ask?
This is a great question.
We do categorize these as the same sound, broad A, and have found so far that students do just fine learning the sounds this way, both for reading and for spelling. However, it is true that this sound has a number of different variations in any given individual's speech. The variations are more distinct in some English accents than in others.
It is a normal part of human speech for sounds to change shape a bit in different words depending on what sounds are around them. In many cases we don't even notice. Our brains are able to automatically categorize these closely related variations (called allophones) into one phoneme.
For example, if you are American, you probably say a slightly different short A sound in hat and mathematics than you do in hand or sang. Linguists will tell us that we actually say a different variant of the /p/ sound in pin than in spin, even though most of us don't notice the difference.
But sometimes, as with broad /ä/ in most British and a few American dialects, the variation is more noticeable and even begins to seem like a distinctly other sound. In some British English accents there are three subtly but perceptibly different shades of broad /ä/. And the short O sound sometimes adds an additional complication! Depending on where you live, you may perceive the vowel sounds in the words box, awe, and father (or the words father, wash, and walk to stick with the phonogram A only) as all about the same, or two the same and one different, or all three perceptibly distinct from each other.
To get very technical for a moment: for those who are familiar with or curious about the International Phonetic Alphabet, the symbols used to represent these three distinct sounds are:
ɒ - This is the British short O (as in box). It is formed low in the back of the mouth with lips rounded.
ɑ - This is the sound in father or palm. It is formed low in the back of the mouth with lips relaxed.
ɔ - This is the sound in some dialects' pronunciation of walk, caught, and awe. Lips are rounded, but the sound is not as low in the mouth as the previous two sounds.
Do these sounds need to be taught as separate phonemes?
We’ve typically found that when students notice slight variations of a sound, it helps to talk about the idea of “shades” of sound. Just as there are different shades of red that are still unquestionably red, there can be different variations of a sound that we can easily categorize as the same sound, just with a slightly different “shade.”
At some point two sounds are so distinct for a given speaker that they should not be categorized as variations (or allophones) of one phoneme but as distinctly different speech sounds. There’s a bit of a gray (or grey!) area as to when to draw this line. However, a good rule of thumb is to think about whether it would change a word to a different word if you swapped them.
From my observations so far, it seems like if you swapped which pronunciation of broad /ä/ you use in a word for another broad /ä/ sound, you would have an odd-sounding pronunciation of the same word rather than an entirely new word. For this reason, my instinct is that it's most helpful to think about them as shades of the same sound (just as different shades of red are still red) rather than have students memorize four or five sounds of the phonogram. We've generally found that even students who do pronounce these sounds slightly differently do just fine learning them as slight variations of the broad A sound that they may encounter in different contexts (for example, after a /w/ sound you are more likely to get one of the rounded ones, since the mouth is rounded for /w/), particularly once they understand that any sound may vary a bit in different sound environments.
However, if the distinction between these sounds is significant where you live and you want to teach the different variations as fourth (or fourth and fifth) sounds of the phonogram a for your students, that would be fine too. And we’d love to hear about how it goes!
And a story to close
A few years ago I had an email exchange with an Australian physician and mum whose five-year-old son, Ranjan, was using Foundations B. She had decided to teach him two different sounds of broad A, since in their speech the distinction between the relaxed /ah/ like in the word pa and the more rounded sound in words like water or ball was significant, and she wrote us with some questions. We emailed back and forth about the sounds they use in different words as she pondered this idea.
A little while later she sent the following message:
“My son responded today to me saying that I think of broad "a" as having two sounds (ah and aw) with ‘No, Mum, broad "a" has three sounds, don't you know? Ah, Aw and (short) o, like in was!’ It is your curriculum that has let him have the tools to put those observations into words, at five and a half! Talk about phonological awareness!”
And this, I think, is the point. What matters is not always exactly which way you approach the logic of a particular word or sound with your students, but whether you give them real answers and equip them with the skills and tools they need to think critically about words and why they are spelled the way they are.