Category Archives: pronunciation of words

Will avatars improve learning how to read?

What’s the future of reading?

Kindle pronunciation and definition pop-up

Already available on the Kindle, readers just touch unfamiliar words and a definition pop-up appears. (shown is an excerpt from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett) CLICK on the picture for a link to the pronunciation.

A student who knows she has trouble reading long words creates an avatar—say an owl—to help her.  Then whenever she is reading online, the avatar would appear before every long word.  The avatar will help her to figure out long words–three and four syllable words.

The student could skip the avatar if she thinks she knows the word.  But if she  needs help, she could click on the owl and the owl might segment the word into syllables, making the word easier to deconstruct.  “Conversation” might show in a tiny screen as “con-ver-SA-tion.”

If the word does not follow the rules of phonics, the word might be shown as it is pronounced.  “Business” might appear as “BIZZ-ness.”

An option for the avatar to pronounce a word might also exist.  If a student can figure out “discreet” but not “discretion,” the avatar might pronounce the latter word.

With technology, we have the ability to personalize reading instruction, offering individual help for students.  Fast learners could have an avatar which acts as a high speed dictionary and thesaurus, allowing students to read difficult words without a word search.  Slower learners’ avatars could offer private tutoring help, allowing students to progress at their own slower pace with no one the wiser.  ESL students could get help with pronunciation.

Even older students reading advanced text books could use this help with the avatar segmenting the word, perhaps showing its root, pronouncing it, and defining it.  It could refer to previous pages in the book where the word is used the way an index does—all at the click of an avatar.

Sound farfetched?

With Google’s Alexa, some of this technology already exists.  If a student is stumped by a word, the student can spell the word and ask how to say it or what it means, and Alexa, after a split-second of “thinking.” would respond.

It’s only a matter of time before this kind of technology will be custom fit to meet individual students’ reading needs.

How do you pronounce “little”?

A reader has asked how to pronounce two-syllable words in the CVCCVC pattern where the middle two consonants are the same letter sound, such as in “little,” “muffin,” and “bigger.”

Child with arms stretched out at his sides, forming the letter T.

In the US, these words are usually pronounced as if the first of the two middle consonants is silent, or if not silent, barely spoken.  In “muffin,” for example, the pronunciation is mu- fin with both vowels sounding short.  The accent is usually on the first syllable, but not always.  “Supplant” is accented on the second syllable.

The British pronunciation, however, places the consonant sound strongly with the first syllable and weakly with the second.

Other examples of words like this include “babble,” “clammy,” “lesson,” “pollen,” “funnel,” “puppet” and “kitten.”  Longer words, such as recommend, follow the same pronunciation patter, but the accented syllable often changes.

Two of my dictionaries* disagree with me while one** agrees.

Pronunciation of words varies across the US, with people in the North and East sounding a bit more British than people in the South, Midwest or West.  For sure, double consonants are slurred when pronounced everywhere in the US, so it can be hard to distinguish which syllable the consonant sound goes with.  Even so, the way I say these words and the way I hear these words pronounced is with the consonant sound beginning the second syllable.

Pronunciation is different from syllabication.  The rule for syllabication is to divide between the twin letters no matter how you pronounce them.

For audio pronunciations of words, go to these links:  the Cambridge Dictionary,;  and the Macmillan Dictionary:

*The American Heritage Dictionary; World Book Dictionary

** Merriam Webster Dictionary