How do you pronounce ‘cear’? Funny phonics leaves blogger baffled

Parents and professionals have been left baffled by a list of nonsensical words in a phonics book with no clear way to pronounce them.

An anonymous blogger, known by the pseudonym “itsmotherswork” recently shared an image from a Project X Code book that her youngest daughter was reading.

The words (pictured above) include “cear” “ghermb” and “guell”. Many commenters on social media were also confused about the correct pronunciation.

The phonics screening check, introduced in 2012, is an individual, oral assessment of pupils that requires them to read words and pseudo-words. Children are taught grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) such as the pronunciation of “ch” in different words.

The blogger has four children aged 8, 10, 13 and 15, and said she could see how the emphasis on phonics had increased over the years as each child had learned to read. This has affected her youngest child’s enjoyment of reading.

Speaking to Schools Week, the blogger said: “The book she brought home this time had quite a dull text, where it was obvious that the story was reinforcing learning of certain phonemes (“aight” in straight and “eil” in unveil and abseil).

“She read these fine, but then it had a list of complete nonsense words at the end, and she simply rejected them outright, saying ‘they’re not words’. And she was right!

“I tried them out, and so did my 15-year-old, but there were a number of possible different pronunciations of some – ‘plere’ as in here, or there, or were? And some were strings of letters that I’ve never seen together in any English word. I don’t know why the publishers thought the list was necessary and it wasn’t very clear what it was for.”

Susan Godsland, a retired phonics teacher, told Schools Week the words were misleading.

She said: “If the authors had used the GPCs actually used in the phonics checks, they wouldn’t have chosen those words because they contain GPCs usually not taught by that stage.

“English spelling is contextually based: some spellings never appear next to other spellings, such as the ‘mb’ after ‘er’.”

Ms Godsland said children should spend teaching time learning “real words with real spellings”.

Itsmotherswork added: “Nonsense words aren’t a problem in themselves; all my children have enjoyed books by Dr Seuss and Edward Lear. And what’s the Gruffalo, if not a nonsense word brought to vivid life?

“My problem with this particular book is that children are reading for meaning. It’s possible to invest a nonsense word with meaning through the context it sits in.

“A list of nonsense words, especially when their phonics learning value is dubious, as was the case with these, has no meaning or interest for a child – as my daughter made clear.”

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  1. As Ms Godsland points out, some examples from the Project X Code book simply don’t appear in English. For example, although the spelling for the sound /m/ follows the spelling in words like ‘comb’, ‘tomb’ and ‘aplomb’, it doesn’t follow the spelling . So, using it to coach children for the Phonics Screening Check in Year 1 is just stupid when there are so many real words on which to practise.
    Some words, such as the example ‘screy’ in the book are possible. ‘Scree’ is a real word and one can imagine someone inventing the spelling ‘screy’ (where represents the sound /ee/) for some new thing or practice. But why would the authors invent these non-words solely for the purpose of practising them when there are real words, such as ‘key’ and ‘donkey’, to work on?
    There is no need to fetishise non-words: Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear provide much better practice and a hell of a lot more fun.
    Some might suspect that this is an attempt by the OUP to cash in on parental anxiety.