Category: Education

Teaching the World to Read
by Richard R. Tryon

An Introduction to

The Malt




Contents Page No.




What makes See-a-Sound different?

a The pure analytic phonic method
b The Step-by-Step approach
c The ?schwa? sound
d Repetition ? Feeding Information Processes in the Brain
e Multi-sensory

a Use of different typefaces
b Use of pictures
c Transition to standard text
d Vocabulary
e Style
f Motivation is intrinsic
g Error recognition and causes of error
h Flexibility
i Developing speed of performance
j Goals and recognition of results


a Children with specific learning difficulties
b Immigrant children
c Foreign students
d Deaf children
e Adult learners





?Books purporting to help children and others to learn to read have been about for more than a century. There have been many schemes and approaches. It has been recognised for some time that a major problem is that in English there are very few one-to-one relationships between the written and the spoken word: the same letter can represent different sounds and the same sound can be written many different ways.

George Bernard Shaw and others attempted to create new phonetic alphabets. None have been widely accepted: the whole corpus of English is too vast now to be changed. Reading schemes have to prepare children and others to learn to read English as it is normally written.

See-a-Sound is believed to be the first reading scheme to tackle this problem head on. The one-to-one relationship between what is seen and what is sounded has been cleverly constructed without introducing any new letters or characters, simply by exploiting the resources of typography. The transition to ordinary English is thus easy and natural.

See-a-Sound has been most carefully worked out and uses a full range of modern techniques. It has been successfully tested, approved and already awarded a major commendation.? *

J Michael Moffat MA (Oxon)

* By HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on behalf of the English Speaking Union.


The Malt See-a-Sound Reading Plan

See-a-Sound has been planned as a pure analytic phonic reading method very different from any other phonics. It has benefits for teachers and pupils. There is a companion skills analysis course for handwriting. The Malt See-a-Sound Reading Plan has been based on the premise that reading can not be well taught in a random fashion, but that it can be well taught in a way that children will enjoy, if the language used is recognised as meaningful by the children and if the children find that they learn to read easily. The plan can be adapted for other users, such as adults with reading difficulties, deaf learners and foreign students.

See-a-Sound provides a logical and reasoned approach that allows for deduction, rather than haphazard guessing. It does not rely on rote memory. Children come to recognise the components of words in the same way that they recognise the physical components of, for example, a 'cat' and know that it is a 'cat' and not a 'rat'. The pure phonic approach used in See-a-Sound is so clear and simple that it makes sense to learners, because they can see and understand the method. It has been easily applied by many teachers, no matter what methods they had used previously.

To make it easy for children to learn to read, letters and sounds are slowly and carefully introduced in seven steps in each of the two stages now available. In this way it has been possible to avoid any confusions, both of sight and sound, and enabled the introduction of words with two and even three syllables right from Step 1. Text in the Readers and Story books therefore need not be restricted to one syllabled words. With only ten letters and thirteen sounds introduced in Step 1, words like ?secret, hidden, antenna? and names like ?Canada, India, Eden, Crete, Trinidad', are easily read. Great care has been taken to produce interesting text that also has humour, and is within children's vocabulary and experience.

See-a-Sound sets out to reduce not only the complexity of learning the 40+ sounds of the 26 letters used in English, but also to make sense of the 323 (current thinking is that there are more than 1100) graphemic representations of these sounds which are the main source of reading and spelling difficulties. It also introduces and teaches the "schwa" sound, the most ubiquitous sound in the English language.

The See-a-Sound plan makes the different sounds visible. This is done through variations in type face (always in the same basic font) and some underlining of letters ? six simple signals. Because signals are only used to introduce new sounds in the early stages, it is possible to read text all in standard typeface as early as in Step 2. There has, therefore, been no problem for learners in transferring to read text in standard print.

With its pure analytic step-by-step approach and interesting text, See-a-Sound builds self-esteem and confidence, ensuring success.


It is generally recognised that we do not yet have enough knowledge of the precise way in which the human brain functions, to be able to say with certainty how the process of learning to read happens within the neurophysiological system. It is useful to accept the currently held view that reading is possible when the reader looks at symbols in words, can sound the words and take in the messages.

Skilled readers do this fluently, with speed and comprehension. They recognise the whole of familiar words, readily recognise single letters, phonemes, graphemes and morphemes. This enables them to build up less familiar words. They are also able to analyse previously unseen words and sound them meaningfully.

All this can be done because a memory store has been developed for all the phonemes ? letter sounds, and graphemes ? letter mixes, as well as for the commonly used words with many of their alternative meanings. (750 of the most commonly used words in English have 15,000 different meanings). Comprehension and knowledge of language structure aids recall from the memory bank, making it possible to piece together and sound new words and to take their meaning.

To read English with fluency and comprehension, learners need some understanding of the words used and the structure in which they appear. Reading schemes for beginners often help by providing aids to the understanding of words through the use of pictures. However, incorrect use of pictures can hinder learning to read. (Ref: Protheroe)

Reading skills require that the reader is able:
? to recognise and restructure letters and combinations of letters, parts of
words and whole words
? to understand the meaning of words in the context and in the grammatical
form in which they appear. This, not only for comprehension, but also
because it aids in the recognition and restructuring process.


Teaching English reading as distinct from teaching many other languages does present some specific problems. These are not caused by the number of letters or the number of sounds. There are only 26 letters of the alphabet and 40+ different sounds. This number could be taught without too much difficulty if the phonemes were always spelled in the same way. Chinese children who have more than 2,000 pictographs to interpret, can learn this seemingly enormous number because each pictograph represents only one specific word. There is often no sure way of knowing, other than knowing the word, how to sound some letters, e.g. there are twelve sounds for the vowel ?o? in this 12 word sentence:

One of our boys does go to work for two poor women.

The major difficulties, addressed in See-a-Sound are :
1. Probably the most important single problem in learning to read English lies in having so many graphemes to spell the 40+ phonemes.
? 6 vowels a e i o u y have 21 phonemes: spelled with 168 graphemes
? 20 consonants have only 28 phonemes: spelled with 155 graphemes
(Ref: Dean).
This 1968 total of 323 graphemic representations for the 40+ sounds in the English language has increased vastly in the intervening years. Computer analysis has simplified the task. In the spring of 2001, reputable journals quoted a figure of more than 1,100 ways of spelling the 40+ phonemes.
2. In English script there is no visual differentiation to indicate when letters make different sounds, or when different letters make the same sound.
3. Phonic reading schemes now in use do not regularly differentiate all phonemes in each word. The tendency is to concentrate on initial sounds in words and on some few of the many vowel phonemes. Generally, little or no specific attention is directed to graphemes.
4. It is only in recent years that the sound known as the "schwa" has been recognised, although it is the most frequently used sound. The way English is spoken is constantly changing and now over 10.74% of all spoken words contain it. However, it has not been specifically taught.

What makes See-a-Sound Different?

The foundation of See-a-Sound is its pure analytic step-by-step approach, which incorporates an introduction both of the 26 letters and of the 40+ different sounds that occur in the English language. It builds information processes in the brain through proper use of repetition and provides for all-round comprehension by the use of a multi-sensory approach.

a) Pure Analytic
See-a-Sound is unique in being a pure analytic reading method. It is pure analytic because all words used contain only those letters and sounds that have been carefully introduced both visually and aurally, then recognised and practised through reading (silently and aloud) and writing. Each word is analysed into its component sounds, e.g. c a t. Words are selected that use only the restricted number of letters introduced in each step. In the first step only 10 letters and 13 sounds are used.

The letters in Step 1 are : a c d e h i n r s t - as in the words "hit red cans"
Letters with two sounds are signalled: s as in ?hiss? and ?his?
a as in the article ?a? and ?cat?
e as in ?ten' and ?he?
"As he hits a red can? is a useful mnemonic for the 13 sounds.

All letters are introduced within an introductory word. Each introductory word is broken down ? analysed ? for its letter sounds.

In all other reading schemes we have examined, it is intended that only the first letter of each word is to be taken by learners as a phonic indicator. Here are words taken at random from several other reading schemes :
a as in apple e as in elephant
b as in butterfly f as in feathers
c as in candle g as in gurgle
d as in door h as in house
Contrast this with the multiple use of every one of the ten letters and their thirteen sounds which are introduced in Step 1 of the See-a-Sound reading plan.
b) The Step-by-Step Approach

There are seven steps in each stage. Each step provides only as much information as the learner requires, while ensuring that:

? it is possible to learn and use all the letters, phonemes and graphemes introduced in each step so that full, not partial, learning is achieved
? the step is a meaningful part of the whole
? each letter is introduced within a word and ensuing text is always in sentences, paragraphs and stories. Word lists which emphasize blends and graphemes are provided for further practice
? the steps are linked and later steps continue to provide reinforcement for what has already been learned.

Restriction of Letters and Sounds in Each Step and the Advantages

Three factors are considered to be most important in choosing letters to be introduced for each step:

? the ten letters of the alphabet that are most frequently used in children?s vocabularies ? these are introduced individually in Step 1 ("hit red cans")

? letters that may be sight and/or sound confused ? these are not introduced in the same step nor are they used together until they have been separately practised. In selecting letters for Step 1, apart from frequency considerations, care was also taken to use only those ?rounded? letters that start with a left curved motion, to assist with handwriting ?a e s d c?. Some capital letters are introduced in Step 1, but not capital ?D? or ?R? because they have a right curved motion. Although ?n? and ?h? are used in Step 1, ?n? is introduced early and ?h? is delayed to be sure to avoid even that possible sight confusion. The letters ?d? and ?b? are often shape confused, so they are not introduced in the same step. ?d? is used in Step 1 and ?b? not until Step 5, by which time ?d? has been well learned. Even then ?d? is not used with ?b? until ?b? has been mastered. So even in Step 5 this excludes early use of letter-confusable words like ?bed?, ?bud?, ?dab?
? the different phonemic sounds for the same consonant/s - these are usually introduced one at a time. In this way, sounds for every letter or letters are established before alternative sounds are used e.g. the is introduced in Step 2 and three is introduced in Step 3. Even the confusions in the short vowel sounds are prevented by introducing them in different steps. E.g. ?u? as in ?hut? is not introduced until Step 5. This avoids confusion with the ?u? (schwa) as in ?ago?, ?the?, ?ton?, etc., which is shadowed in the early stages of its use.

The advantage of this step-by-step introduction of letters and sounds is that it allows for easier recognition of graphemes, phonemes and words because learners can master the elements in each step very thoroughly. The restricted number of sounds introduced in each step allows for thorough reinforcement through myelination (see d) Repetition - below). In addition, the vocabulary does not have to be limited to single syllabled words and the text can more closely resemble children?s language. In Step 1, 31 of the 250 commonest words in 5 year old children?s vocabulary are available. This opening step offers 240 words that children can use. For adult use there are 324 simple words (excluding plurals, compounds and derivatives).

Spelling confusions may also be avoided:

? When homographs (same letters) have different sounds these may be introduced in the same step.
e.g. ?ei? as in ?either? (two pronunciations), ?Sheila?, ?heifer?, ?eight?, ?being?
?oe? as in ?does? (two pronunciations), 'shoe?, ?foe?
(signals clarify the sounds in the early stages of their introduction).

? When homophones (same sounds) have different spelling, they are not introduced in the same step.

e.g. ?deer?, ?dear?, ?pier? are in different steps, as also are words such as:
?little?, ?parcel? ?party?, ?monkey?
?road?, ?rode?, ?rowed? ?rain?, ?reign?, ?ray?

c) The "schwa" sound

See-a-Sound teaches the "schwa" sound (eg. the 'a' sound as in 'ago' and the 'e' sound as in 'hidden'). Schwa has at least 68 different spellings. See-a-Sound acknowledges this sound, allowing the learner to recognise it. It resolves the difficulties of hearing a sound that has no visual representation, although now at more than 10.74% it is the most frequently used sound in spoken English ? Reference Sheet 2. It is given a special typeface "signal" when it is introduced (see SEE-a-SOUND SPECIAL FEATURES? below)

d) Repetition ? Feeding Information Processes in the Brain

The See-a-Sound method allows for myelination of axons (see below) by providing thorough systematic repetition for every letter of the alphabet always within a word, words and sentences. This is another reason that children feel they are learning what is being taught from the very first day that they begin to use the See-a-Sound material. Repetition in See-a-Sound is provided in such a manner that it is not recognised as repetition and is therefore not considered to be dull.


Information from the five senses (input) passes into and through the neural system processes. These processes particularly involve neurons and cell bodies of which axons and dendrites are the passage ways. Myelination (this is the development of a fatty sheath over the axons) speeds up transmission of messages from 150m/s to 1m/s. Myelination occurs through repeatedly sending the same message/s along an axon.

It is estimated that the human brain has some 10 million neurons. Each neuron has an axon. These vary in length which depends on the final area to which
messages are to be transmitted. (The longest axons reach into the toes. As they start from the lumbar region in the back, they can be up to 5 ft. or more in length).

Each axon can have as many as 10 - 30,000 spiny dendritic connections.

e) Multi-sensory

See-a-Sound integrates the senses of seeing and hearing in order to facilitate development of the four language functions - reading, writing, hearing and speaking. Each of these senses is used in two ways, to take in by impression and to put out by expression. Reading and writing are primarily visual tasks, while hearing and speaking are primarily aural. Reading and hearing involve the intake of impression, writing and speaking the output of expression. By alternating use of intake and output functions, each sense supports the other, so achieving all-round comprehension.

In addition, when attention is paid to the other senses, namely touch, taste and smell, by the use of imagination as in play, a wider range of natural abilities are harnessed to deepen the learning process ? a multi-sensory approach.


See-a-Sound is special in having a number of unique features ? coping strategies ? which contribute to easy understanding of the complexities of reading the English language.

a) Use of different typefaces

A limited number of different typefaces and some underlining is used to signal different sounds when they first occur.

? Heavy sounds are shown in bold type,
e.g. ?on? but ?go?
? A single underline is used for digraphs (combinations)
e.g. ?thin?, ?that?, ?shin?
? Silent letters are shown as ?skeleton? letters
e.g. ?dread?, ?give?
This sentence is used as a mnemonic for 'skeleton' letters:
"You see them and spell them but never say them."
? The ?schwa? sound with its 68 different spellings is the most ubiquitous sound in the English language. Where these first occur they are signalled with a shadow.
e.g. ?a? as in the article ?a?, is signalled ?a?
and also words like ?ago?, 'pillar'
?e? as in ?hidden?, 'the'
?i? as in ?possible', 'soldier'
?o? in ?ton?, ?mother?, 'colour',
'u' in 'shut', 'picture'

? Exception sounds. Where letters have the sound of a different letter or letters they are signalled with a double underline,
e.g. ?one?, ?any?, ?said?, says?.

b) Use of Pictures

Pictures are used sparingly in See-a-Sound. The use of pictures can replace the reading of the word/s and interpreting pictures can be as difficult for a child at certain developmental ages as reading is. It is known that the left brain hemisphere works sequentially and the right brain hemisphere works holistically. Therefore the left brain is superior at processing linguistic material while the right is better at processing visual material. Although either hemisphere can do the tasks of the other, they do not do them very well.

Showing pictures primes the right brain. Showing letters and words primes the left brain. Using phonics, whilst reading, primes the left brain, which is the side most suited to language. When children are unskilled at recognising letters and words, having to look at pictures when trying to read makes learning to read more difficult and complex.

c) Transition to Standard Text

To enable learners to transfer from reading text that has typographic signals which cue pronunciation, to reading text in standard typeface, the last story in each See-a-Sound reading book, from Step 2 on, is printed without signals. Heavy sounds are still distinguished in bold type in the third and fourth steps but thereafter the last story is always in standard type.

The children who have used the See-a-Sound plan have had no difficulty in reading unsignalled text when that appears in the readers.

d) Vocabulary

Restrictions governing the introduction of letters naturally limit which words can be used in the early stages, but a sufficiently wide vocabulary to provide interesting text is available. For example, from Reader 1:

?Ted has a secret den in his tent, and he has hidden a tin can in his secret den.?

This sentence uses only the ten letters and thirteen sounds introduced in Step 1.
As far as may be generalised, the vocabulary is that of the junior school pupil population and includes the 250 words most commonly used by children.
(Refs: Kucera, Burroughs, McNally & Murray).

These words together with numbers, colours, days of the week and other words that relate to the environment of young children wherever English is used as a first language, build a wide vocabulary (240 words for children in Step 1). Initial concepts are clarified by a few simple pictures and within the context of the text.

The basis for reading ?almost anything? is therefore well laid and considerably reinforced.

e) Style

Lilt to language, rhythm and humour intrigue children of all ages and the stories have been written in this style; always within the parameters set by the letters, phonemes and graphemes that are to be practised e.g. children love words such as ?secret?. This and other exciting words are available as early as Step 1.

f) Motivation is Intrinsic

Children, like adults, learn best when they are interested and their interest is held when they succeed. See-a-Sound with its pure analytic step-by-step approach and interesting text, ensures success. Success in learning builds self-esteem and confidence.

The language into which the letters and words are woven attracts attention not only because it is recognisable. Words with which children are familiar are used in challenging and stimulating ways

e.g ?In secret Tristan slithers close to the shed. Then he dashes hither and thither and scatters the seven geese and the clean green leaves? (from Step 2).

New words and concepts are introduced into the framework of what is already known, ensuring that these new words also are easily learned. As additional stimulus, the content relates both to real life in the familiar environment and also to fantasy.

To summarise, motivation is developed and maintained through interesting contents, the style of the text, and the covert repetition, resulting in invaluable myelinating effects. Most importantly, motivation is maintained as the learners can easily read whatever is presented because each letter and sound has been carefully introduced and thoroughly reinforced. They succeed - and success in a task is known to maintain interest most effectively.

g) Error Recognition and Causes of Error

The careful introduction of letters and sounds in the See-a-Sound plan prevents many frequently occurring current reading errors. Diagnosis of the causes of error can be done easily and exactly because the sources of error are limited in each Step. Because the number of letters and sounds are limited it is possible to prescribe remedial action as it is required, from the resource material provided.

h) Flexibility

The division of material to be learned into short, meaningful learning steps ensures that minimal guidance is necessary and therefore individual progress within wide limits is possible. This degree of flexibility allows for much independent work which, however, still requires monitoring and recognition from a teacher or parent.

i) Developing Speed of Performance

McNeil (Ref:) in discussing the production and comprehension of speech, advances the theory that ?slowness of speech can cause interference. For an adult, very slow speech leads to confusion?. This may apply equally to the pace of reading by young children as well as adults. Learning to recognise graphemes and to form words at an acceptable pace happens more rapidly when a limited number of phonemes, letters and graphemes are learned at one time. So the time span for the existence of the dichotomy of slow reading and a level of speed in performance is reduced.

j) Goals and Recognition of Results

The effect of recognition of results is most powerful when it is related to clearly perceived goals with levels to be attained. In this step-by-step approach when each step is clearly seen as part of the whole, the goal of full mastery of each step is possible. If the goal is not readily attained, additional practical work may be done which is not just a repetition of the unsuccessful attempt. Reinforcement is
available in Activity Books, Readers, Workbooks and Story Books. Almost all of the text allows the children to act out the stories.

Progress to the next step is a reward for having achieved the easily recognised and agreed upon goals. New letters and sounds are added with excitement because of success with what has been done, and because new word, sentence and experience possibilities are opened up for the learner.

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