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Topic 10 – Spelling English language codes. Sound-spelling relationship. Proposals for the teaching of writing code. Applications spelling in written productions.

The orthography of a language is the set of rules of how to write correctly in the language. The term is derived from Greek ortho- (“correct”) and graphos (“writing”). In this topic we shall deal with the relationship between phonemes and graphemes. A phoneme is “the basic unit of spoken language”; a grapheme is “the basic unit of written language”. Phonemes are sounds and graphemes are signs.

There are twenty-eight fundamental graphemes at the word level in English usage (the lowercase letters, the hyphen, and the apostrophe), plus another twenty-six (the capital letters), and finally the syntactic or contextual graphemes (the punctuation marks). The simplest representation of spoken language for a native speaker is phonemic, where there is an exact relationship of one phoneme to one grapheme. But English is far from this ideal situation.

English orthography (spelling) was largely phonemic at one point in the past, but there is no longer an exact correspondence between graphemes and phonemes. Rather, the written representation contains ethymological information as well as some phonemic information. Similar spellings with different pronunciations may at one point have been pronounced the same; different spellings with similar pronunciations may at one point have been pronounced differently.

English spelling has more complicated rules and more inconsistencies than many other spelling systems for languages written in alphabetic scripts. In fact, studies have shown that dyslexia occurs more often among English speakers than among speakers of languages such as Spanish where the letter-sound correspondence is more regular

There are several reasons for the inconsistency in English spelling:

The first is that the orthography of Old English, which used the runic alphabet and was largely phonemic, was swept away by the Norman Conquest, and English itself was eclipsed by Norman-French for three centuries, eventually emerging with its spelling much influenced by French. Even today, English continues to preserve foreign spellings for loanwords, even when they employ completely exotic spellings, like the ‘cz’ in ‘Czech’ (checo).

The second major reason lies in the phonetic changes known as the Great Vowel Shift, which took place during the 15th-16th centuries. Before the Great Vowel Shift words like food or moon, for example, were pronounced with the long o-sound reflected in the spelling (instead of today’s /u:/) The same may be said of words spelled with “ea” (head, bread, etc) which were pronounce with the diphthong /ea/. Words ending in igh/ight (high, night, etc) were pronounced with /i/ followed by a guttural sound represented by the grapheme “gh”. After the Great Vowel Shift, these words retained their spelling, although their pronunciation had changed.

A third major reason is English has 24 separate consonant phonemes and, depending on dialect, from 14 to 20 vowels and diphthongs, but it uses the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, so a on- to-one correspondence between character (or letter) and sound is not possible.

Some inconsistencies are the result of false etymological spellings. The ‘s’ in ‘island’, for example, is an attempt to link it to Latin insula instead of the correct Norse igland, from which the English word island derives.

We also find some spelling inconsistencies if we compare British and American spelling. For example in words ending in our, which in America are spelled with or : colour / color , flavour / flavour, etc. And also the British English ending ise, spelled ize in American English : colonise /colonize, for example; or the ending re which is er in American English in words like centre / center, theatre / theatre. There are also some different pronunciations for words like schedule and a variety of other spelling differences but the total number of words affected is small compared to the total vocabulary of the English language.

spelling reform

Starting in the 19th century and until today, there have been repeated proposals for spelling reform on both sides of the Atlantic, but they have all failed. The first known attempt was made by a British monk named Orm in the 12th century.

In 1879, the British Spelling Reform Association was founded. In 1886, the American Philological Association came out with a list of 3500 spellings. In Great Britain, Charles Darwin, the poet Lord Tennyson, and playwright Bernard Shaw gave support to the British Spelling Reform Association. In the U.S., Noah Webster, the writer Mark Twain, in addition to president Theodore Roosevelt voiced support for the Simplified Spelling Board founded in 1906.

One of the commonest arguments against phonetic spelling is that it would destroy the historical and etymological value of the present system. Those who support a spelling reform for English argue that the Latin alphabet was never appropriate for English from the very beginning, since it had insufficient letters, with the situation becoming worse as pronunciation changed over the centuries and invaders—above all the Normans—introduced elements of their tongues.

Relation between sounds and letters in English

In general, English consonants have the same sounds as in other languages that use the Latin alphabet, with small differences. For example, English plosive consonants (oclusivas) T and D are alveolar; in Spanish they are dental consonants. The same as in Spanish, English has several digraphs –two successive letters representing one sound. They are:

Sh represents / / as in shoe or fashion; ck is pronounced the same as k. For example in sick, truck, etc.

ch represents: /k/ character headache; /t / church, China th represents “thorn” (/ /) and “eth” (/ /) –names of old English runic graphemesfor the th-sounds in maths, author, bath etc., (pronounced with the voiceless sound of “th” (thorn), and this, they, bathe, etc. pronounced with the voiced sound of “th” (eth). Ph is normally pronounced the same as “f”, for example in photograph. Ph normally indicates that the origin of the word is ancient Greek.

Duplicated consonants are pronounced as one: stopped /p/, running /n/, bigger /g/, etc.

X, on the other hand, represents two phonemes: /ks/

Written English sometimes uses silent letters. E.g., the H in hour, heir, honest, shepherd ; T in listen, clastle often; the B in plumber, debt; the L in shouLd, taLk, walk; the G in sign and campaign, the initial letters in Know, Write, etc.

The correspondence between vowel sounds and vowel letters is much more complex. The reason for this is that English has between 14 and 20 different vowels and diphthongs and only five vowel letters (a,e,i,o, u), so they are not in a one-to-one relationship. The number of vowels and diphthongs depends on what varieties of English, including dialects, we consider.

The inconsistency of English spelling can be exemplified with 5 words that have the spelling OUGH, and are all pronounced differently: tough /t f/, cough /k f/, though / /, through / ru:/ and hiccough /hik p/ Originally, OUGH was pronounced with a guttural sound, similar to Spanish “j” as is heard today in the Scottish and Irish word “loch”, as in Loch Ness , which means A lake.

Another example of this inconsistency is that a word like are which has one syllable, becomes a three-syllable word with the addition of just one letter: The word area.


VOWEL PHONEMES, we can this is we compare :

the a’s in “father”, “fall”, “any”, “fat”, “watch”

the u’s in “rule”, “put”, “hut”

the i’s in “wind”, “machine”, “bird”

the o’s in “move”, “love”

the e’s in “me”, “let”

On the other hand, a VOWEL PHONEME may be represented by TWO

LETTERS in written English: /e/ head, friend,

/i:/ meet, eat, receive, key, believe

/ / country, flood, does

/a:/ heart, laugh,

Double “ee” normally corresponds to a long i-sound (/i:/) , as in bee, tree, feet, etc. Double “oo” is usually either long “u” ( /u:/) as in food, moon, or “short-u (/u/ ) as in book, look but there are five exceptions: blood, floor, door, brooch, poor

In English there are many homophones: Words with different meanings and spellings, but the same pronunciation. Some examples are:

air, heir / ate, eight / hear, here / higher, hire / hole, whole / sale, sail / know, no / naval, navel

Some homophones don’t have any letters in common in their written form. For example: EYE and I, or EWE –a female sheep and YOU –a pronoun.

There are also a substantial number of homographs: words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but different meaning. Some examples are:

Lead : name of a metal (plomo) and a verb ; close: a verb and an adverb meaning “near” as in “close to my house” Do : a verb, and the first of the musical notes ; live : a verb and an adjective as in “a live concert”

Some homographs have different stress for example:

present , which is a gift and pre’sent which is a verb as in: He will present his ideas tomorrow, or ‘record – a noun, and re’cord – a verb.

English uses markers quite extensively. Markers are letters like the silent, final E, the U in guide, the doubled consonant in running, that themselves have no sound but point out how to pronounce the word. For example, M A D is pronounced /m d/, addition of final-e, MADE, indicates that the A is pronounced /ei/.

Similarly, English consonants are sometimes duplicated in comparative adjectives and the past tense of verbs in order to preserve the pronunciation of a vowel. This occurs when we have one final consonant preceded by one single vowel. For example, FAT duplicates the T when we add the suffix –er/est of the comparative because if the don’t duplicate it, the word would be pronounced /feit / with the same vowel as in “later”. This duplication of consonants for phonetic reason is called “gemmination”.

Talking about suffixes, it is interesting to note that they often change the pronunciation of a vowel or a consonant in the root-word. We can see this if we compare:

electric /k/ and electricity /s/ sane /ai/ sanity / / produce /ju/ and productive / / prefer / :/ preference / /

As regards the teaching of the written code, we need to say the Spanish Education Authorities have established that writing in the foreign language should be taught once students have learnt to read and write in the native language, that is, in Spanish.

Writing is a basic language skill. Like reading, it requires knowledge of the written form of the language. Like speaking, it is a productive and creative language skill. We use it to communicate our own ideas and feelings to others. Writing is also a physical skill. Young children need to be able to handle pens and pencils and correctly form those strange marks on paper that adults call writing.

To do this, children must develop their fine motor skills: the small muscle movements that occur in the fingers, in coordination with the eyes. These skills don’t develop overnight. Teaching them to children requires patience — and it needs to be fun, too!

Since writing is much more than the correct production of graphic symbols, our pupils need to master certain subskills. The main types of writing sub-skills are the following:

Graphical or visual skills, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc. Stylistic or expressive skills. This implies being able to express precise meanings, using adequate vocabulary, etc. Organisational skills include, for example, division into paragraphs. Grammatical skills, for example, using a variety of sentence patterns or constructions. Rhetorical skills. These include using cohesive devices such as connectors, to link different parts of a text.

Writing practice should begin at the word level. For example, making lists, completing crosswords, matching labels to pictures, classifying words under headings, or making personal dictionaries. These activities will also re-inforce the learning of spelling and vocabulary.

The sentence level comes next. At this stage, the following types of activities can be used: writing captions for pictures, and writing speech bubbles for cartoons, matching halves of sentences and copying, answering questions, correcting mistakes in written sentences, writing sentences based on questionarraires, etc. These types of activities will enable our students to construct sentences in English.

For the next step, the paragraph-level, it is convenient to start by providing “model paragraphs”, so students see a text and then use it as a basis for their own work. Hammer (1983) calls this “parallel writing”. We must also help our students organise their writing clearly and coherently.

Dictation is a useful writing activity. Although it is not a creative activity, it is very useful to re-inforce spelling, among other things.

At the end of the 6th year of primary education children should be able to write short compositions without too many mistakes on topics that are relevant to their interests.

As regards spelling and grammar, the following points are important in Primary Education: Correct use of capital letters, especially in those cases where their use is not the same as in Spanish (nationality words, for example); use of –es for the plural form of words ending in –ch, -sh, -s, -x, -z,-o; duplication of consonants in words like running, swimming, cutting, etc.

CONCLUSION. Learning to write is a critical achievement in life. Research reveals conclusively the link between early literacy and later academic success. To ensure that every child learns to write in a foreign language is a responsibility shared by teachers, families and communities. The role of educators in early literacy instructionis to teach basic skills and to provide rich, meaningful, engaging learning environments supported by appropriate teaching practices. Each child comes to the classroom with different literacy experiences and abilities, and teachers need to consider each child’s needs and to provide balanced programs with explicit instruction and meaningful writing tasks.

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