Teaching the /a/ sound

Discussion in 'Kindergarten' started by flowerpower31, Oct 4, 2012.

  1. flowerpower31

    flowerpower31 Comrade

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2007
    Messages:
    372
    Likes Received:
    0

    Oct 4, 2012

    When you teach the /a/ sound, do you use words that begin with "an" or "am"? Like ant, animal, ambulance, etc.?

    In the curriculum we use, we're currently working on the /a/ sound and it said to have me tell the kids to listen for that and then say "ant". Around here, no one says "ant" with the short a sound like that...

    It drives me crazy that it expects me to teach that way.
     
  2.  
  3. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,495
    Likes Received:
    1,474

    Oct 4, 2012

    The program I teach with uses those words, too. I teach the kids to "tap" out the word slowly by saying the short a sound and each of the consonant sounds that follow. Then they say the word fast and think about what that word is. In the situation that you're talking about, they might say that word even one more time using the more typical pronunciation. I teach them that, sometimes, certain consonants can slightly change the way we say the short vowel sound but that it is still a short vowel.
     
  4. amakaye

    amakaye Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2004
    Messages:
    2,397
    Likes Received:
    4

    Oct 4, 2012

    What sound do they use at the beginnings of those words? I say them with short a, and I can't think of another way to say them!

    The ones that always confused me were words like "bag." In my area, we say them with a long a, but they're usually considered short a words.
     
  5. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,495
    Likes Received:
    1,474

    Oct 4, 2012

    In my area, we still say the words with the short a sound. It's just that when you say the word fast (as opposed to sounding out each sound individually), the vowel and consonant sort of blend together, and the "a" doesn't really sound the same as it would if it were being said as an individual sound. Hope that makes sense. It's kind of hard to explain in words. Too bad we can't hear each other speak it.
     
  6. karebear76

    karebear76 Habitué

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2005
    Messages:
    987
    Likes Received:
    3

    Oct 4, 2012

    I do not use those words. The Wilson Reading Series uses /an/ and /am/ as welded sounds, so it doesn't use those sounds as a true /a/ sound. The keyword associated is apple. We're to refer to it a a - apple- /a/ when teaching.

    Those words do not have a true /a/ sound.
     
  7. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 4, 2012

    Several things are going on here, and none of them is your fault, though all do need to be dealt with.

    First, flowerpower is quite right that /m/ and /n/ after a vowel tend not to be pronounced and that they affect the vowel. So is every little kid who ever spelled "can't" <cat>, with no letter <n>. What's going on is that /m/ and /n/ (and the consonant at the end of "king) are nasal consonants and that they tend to cause the preceding vowel to become nasalized; the result sounds rather like French or Portuguese.

    Second, "long" and "short" are really rotten terms to use with English vowels, but we're sort of stuck with them. "Long" and "short" come to us from Latin, which really does differentiate among vowels by length or quantity: the vowel spelled <ā> in the Latin word mālus 'apple' is noticeably shorter in length than the vowel spelled <a> in the Latin word malus 'bad', though in both cases the vowel sounds like the /a/ in father. In English, the difference between "long" and "short" is less a matter of quantity than it is of vowel quality: if you say "fad, fade; backer, baker; tapping, taping" several times quickly, you should feel that your tongue and jaw close up a bit for the "long" vowels and drop down for the "short vowels".

    Third, bella is correct that the vowels in words pronounced in isolation, or with special stress, are nearly always pronounced differently than they are in continuous speech. (Linguists talk about "list pronunciation".) The longer the vowel is held, the likelier it is to become a diphthong (a vowel with more than one sound).

    Fourth, the pronunciation of "short a" (which I'm going to call /æ/, if it's all the same to everyone else, to distinguish it from the /a/ of father) does differ from region to region. As ama points out, in her area the pronunciation of "bag" involves an /æ/ that lasts rather long even though it's a supposedly short "a"; in other areas, the /æ/ of "bag" is pronounced a bit more like the /ɛ/ of "bet".

    My advice is to start with VC and CVC patterns that don't end in nasals long enough for your students to get reasonably confident in identifying /æ/ (the sound) with <a> (the spelling), holding off on VN and CVN till later. Then I might teach the aN/eN contrasts: man/men, tan/ten, ham/hem, tamper/temper.
     
  8. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,752
    Likes Received:
    217

    Oct 4, 2012

    Always informative TeacherGroupie - interesting comments. I agree with starting with more "traditional" short /a/ then incorporating /an/ and /am/ later - typically students seem to get this naturally and don't require too much explicit instruction, but you may have some (struggling) readers who need more explicit instruction in the area. Fortunately words like "and" and "am" make recognizing those particular letter sequences easier to identify.
     
  9. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2010
    Messages:
    10,924
    Likes Received:
    0

    Oct 5, 2012

    I would use words that use the short /a/ sound when introducing /a/. I would not choose words (even if my textbook uses them) that do not make the sound in the student's speech.

    Textbooks are written for a vast majority of places so they may not take into account different accents. I would definitely switch out the words so that the students hear the true sound, not a distorted sound while they are learning.
     
  10. flowerpower31

    flowerpower31 Comrade

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2007
    Messages:
    372
    Likes Received:
    0

    Oct 5, 2012

    This is what I ended up doing.

    I just wanted to see what other people do when teaching it, since so many materials seem to make that mistake.

    Thanks for the answers! :)
     
  11. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2010
    Messages:
    10,924
    Likes Received:
    0

    Oct 5, 2012

    It's only a mistake for certain parts of the world. So we just use the materials that are provided.
     
  12. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,752
    Likes Received:
    217

    Oct 5, 2012

    Mopar, that brings up a good point - I know some people that literally use a short /a/ sound when saying words like "and" and I don't think it sounds right. I also don't think many folks do it - I've lived across the country and I can't think of any region where the short /a/ sound would be normatively used in "and." What are everyone's thoughts/experiences in that department?
     
  13. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 6, 2012

    "Normatively" the word "and" has no short a? I wouldn't say that. To be sure, a competent native speaker knows that "and", when not stressed, can be pronounced with a schwa, as in "bacon an' eggs", or even as what linguists call a syllabic nasal as reflected in the name of the late lamented chain "Linens 'N Things". But the competent native speaker also knows that, when "and" is pronounced in isolation ("And?") or in careful speech ("The fourth word is "and"), or when it is stressed ("No: I want a milkshake AND a cup of tea!"), the vowel is still more nearly [æ] as in "cat" (or the local pronunciation thereof) than it is anything else. We depend on this, in fact, in the course of attempting to sell small children on the proposition that "and", however it is pronounced, is properly spelled with an "a" rather than with some other vowel letter or none at all.
     
  14. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2007
    Messages:
    2,428
    Likes Received:
    117

    Oct 6, 2012

    Ok, so I'm pretty sure that I use the short /a/ sound when I say "and." How does everyone else say it?
     
  15. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 6, 2012

    As I've just pointed out, Sarge, it depends.
     
  16. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2007
    Messages:
    2,428
    Likes Received:
    117

    Oct 6, 2012

    So in isolation, "and" has a short /a/. Is that right?
     
  17. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2007
    Messages:
    2,428
    Likes Received:
    117

    Oct 6, 2012

    I think what you have, is essentially a contraction that is only used in spoken language but not written.
     
  18. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2007
    Messages:
    6,791
    Likes Received:
    160

    Oct 6, 2012

    I am starting to get very confused. I too use the short a sound in "and". How else is this pronounced? I also didn't see any issues with the earlier words used as an example by the OP as I believe them to have short a sounds. So, I am feeling a little confused. Does this just depend on where one is from? I am from California, if that makes a difference.
     
  19. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2010
    Messages:
    10,924
    Likes Received:
    0

    Oct 6, 2012

    Listen to how a people from the Northeast says and or ham or man. It has a much more "nasal" pronunciation and does not make a true short /a/ sound.
     
  20. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2007
    Messages:
    6,791
    Likes Received:
    160

    Oct 6, 2012

    I guess that must be the difference, then, because I haven't found any issue with any of these words.
     
  21. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,752
    Likes Received:
    217

    Oct 7, 2012

    I think the confusion is that people are referring to short /a/ as it sounds in "cat." So, imagine using that same short /a/ in the word "and." Again, I've lived across the country and visited many other places, and have yet to find a place where the "a" in "and" is pronounced the same as in "cat."
     
  22. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 7, 2012

    EdEd, it's certainly the case that the vowels in "cat" and "and" aren't identical; I don't think I said that they are, and since I'd already mentioned nasalization of a vowel before a nasal consonant, it seemed unnecessary to go through that again. But are you saying that one never pronounces the vowel in "and" as one does the vowel in "rant"?
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2012
  23. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,752
    Likes Received:
    217

    Oct 7, 2012

    I think you've been clear for the most part, but I think some of the discussion didn't seem clear, at least to me. I definitely think the "a" in "and" and "rant" would be the same.

    One statement you made previously, though, was:

    when it is stressed ("No: I want a milkshake AND a cup of tea!"), the vowel is still more nearly [æ] as in "cat"

    Even when emphasized, I wouldn't pronounce the "a" in "and" like in "cat."
     
  24. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 7, 2012

    But chances are you'd pronounce it more nearly like the vowel in "cat" than like (a) the vowel in "cot", (b) the vowel in "caught" (if your pronunciations of "cot" and "caught" aren't identical), or (c) the vowel in "bet", yes?
     
  25. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,752
    Likes Received:
    217

    Oct 8, 2012

    Perhaps. I'm also notoriously bad with pronouncing my "a" - I'm known for my pronunciation of "bag" to sound more like "beg." To me, though, they ("a" in "cat" vs. "and") still sound qualitatively different, for the reasons you very effectively described before (nasalization, etc.).
     
  26. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 8, 2012

    If you pronounce "bag" like "beg", then you pronounce "sat" like "set" and "pal" like "pell" (or possibly even like "peel"); your pronunciation of "bog" might sound a bit like "bag"; your pronunciation of "bought" probably sounds like "bot", and your pronunciation of "beg" may resemble either "bug" or "plague". This is what's known in linguistics as a chain shift (this one in particular is the Northern Cities chain shift, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_cities_vowel_shift is a good discussion). The crucial thing here is that, though the pronunciations shift, the phonemic system doesn't, and so there's no compelling reason to change the spellings: "bag" can keep being spelled <bag> as long as you and I continue to recognize in it the phonemes /b/, /ae/, and g, even if you pronounce /ae/ closer to "short e" while I pronounce /ae/ more like "short a". Furthermore, we can perfectly well assign to the /ae/ phoneme (and therefore to the spelling <a>) the nasalized vowel in "ban" even if yours sounds more like "ben".

    Alphabets depend on and reflect phonemes, not specific details of pronunciation.
     
  27. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,752
    Likes Received:
    217

    Oct 8, 2012

    That's really fascinating TeacherGroupie! I'm finding myself pronouncing those words and trying to hear how I'm sounding. I will definitely be more conscious of my pronunciations going forward, for better or worse. :)
     
  28. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Oct 8, 2012

    Don't worry too much about them, EdEd. For one thing, the kid in Rochester or Syracuse or Gary who pronounces "bad" with "short a" when everyone else in the neighborhood pronounces it with a vowel that sounds more like the vowel in "beer" is going to stick out as someone who's Not From Around Here; conversely, I'm reminded of the new kid in high school who announced herself as "Pyet Jansen from Shikaguh": with a little head-scratching we suburban Southern California kids managed to parse that as 'Pat Johnson from Chicago', and after that all was well.

    Second, spelling is not about specific pronunciations: if it were, we'd still pronounce "shine" to rhyme with "machine". Instead, spelling exploits consistencies in the system. In fact, if all the kids in a Chicago 'hood pronounce "Pat and Jack's pal ran fast" as [pyet yend jyeks pyel ryen fyest] (I'm cheating slightly with the phonetic symbols and ignoring nasalization), then, frankly, phonemic awareness activities should be helping them isolate the spoken sound [ye] and associating that, rather than the spoken sound [ae], with the phoneme /ae/ or "short a" and therefore with the spelling <a>.

    As for nasalization, it does indeed have an impact on vowel quality, but consider this: we have five oral short vowels, as in "pat, pet, pit, pot, putt", and we also have exactly five short oral vowels, as in "pan, pen, pin, (u)pon, pun"; the person who pronounces "pat" as [paet] is not going to shift her tongue or jaw measurably to pronounce "pan" (that is, we're not going to hear [pyen] or even [pen], so it still makes sense to treat nasalized [ae] as one of that person's pronunciations of the phoneme /ae/. The vowels in, um, "Dam!" and "Dang!" do differ slightly from each other phonetically, but not enough to make it worthwhile to classify the first as /ae/ and the second as something else - and it's easier to keep those words distinct by way of the difference in their final consonants than it is to try to indicate how the vowels differ.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012

Share This Page

Members Online Now

  1. Ms.Holyoke,
  2. MrsC,
  3. waterfall,
  4. Ima Teacher
Total: 372 (members: 6, guests: 346, robots: 20)
test