English language structure is a little like chemistry.
- In chemistry, 118 known chemical elements make up all matter.
- In English, about 44 speech sounds are spelled with 460 or so letters and letter combinations, and these make up all the words we read and spell.
We don't usually think about the constituent elements of words any more than we think about constituent elements of objects around us.
When we order a chocolate ice cream cone, the word's sounds and letters are about the last thing on our mind!
CHOCOLATE /ˈtʃɒ kə lɪt/
But spelling the word chocolate requires an understanding of the word’s structure:
- It has three syllables (so three vowels).
- The 1st vowel sounds like “aw” and is spelled <o>.
- The 2nd vowel is also spelled <o> but sounds like “uh”.
- The last syllable is spelled <late> but sounds like “lit”.
When a word seems to have an "irregular" spelling pattern, there's always a reason! Chocolate came into English from Spanish and the Spanish got it from an Aztec word, xocolatl. In 1664 in England chocolate was spelled jocolatte.
For many of us, word structure awareness develops unconsciously. But for people with language processing differences, developing this awareness may require conscious attention to the reasons (and there are always reasons!) for specific spelling patterns.
We know from research that language-literacy impairments tend to be one of two main types:
- 1) meaning-based impairments due to weaknesses in processing spoken language;
- 2) word-level impairments due to weaknesses in processing speech sounds and the letters that represent them.