Why you learn to read better with word blocks than with syllables

Although prof. Thome has already explained well in his guest article the extent to which division into syllables harms rather than helps beginning readers, the rejection of syllable-based reading exercises still seems to need explanation. So today I would like to use the situation of a preschooler who is just starting school to explain why syllables are not the way to go when learning to read.

When first graders read, they loop the spelling signs together to form a word, pronounce it aloud, and listen to themselves saying it. As they listen, they evaluate whether they recognize the word. (This is called the "auditory loop"). If so, they understand it and have a sense of accomplishment. If not, they don’t understand what they read and experience frustration.

How can you now ensure that the children have as much sense of achievement as possible? To do this, they must recognize the word they read as often as possible, immediately, at the first attempt. Three things are necessary for this:

  1. They must Pronounce long and short vowels correctly, because otherwise the sound of the word is strongly distorted. (cf. Eeeenteeee – duck). My preschoolers learn this in their last year of kindergarten; it should be taught in every case in the 1. This will be an important topic for the first grade when learning the letters. As explained elsewhere, in practice this is not rarely neglected. My preschoolers learn this according to Thome:

2. You have to Word stem, thus the "core" of the word, recognize, to understand the main meaning (in "sell" it would be "buy", "ver" is a prefix and "en" is an ending.) Compounds of several letters the children already know as "Spellings. Slightly deviating from Thome, I also treat the ending "-er" as a grapheme, since it represents a specific sound and has a morphological function. At the time of school enrollment, my preschoolers know:

We write WORDS with LETTERS.
We hear and speak LOUD.
The SOUNDS of the king letters A, E, I, O, U

can be spoken short or long.

A word does not have so many letters,

how you hear sounds,

but it has as many WRITING CHARACTERISTICS as Loud.

A WRITING SIGN consists of several letters and is pronounced as 1 LOUD.

From Dr. Stiehler’s dwarf school

3. So that 1. and 2. routinely succeed, the children must learn the most common word components of our language correctly and recognize them as recurring building blocks. These are the endings -er, -en, -el and prefixes such as be-, ge-, er-, ver-, un–.

After all, the [ə] is the most frequent sound in our native language not only in itself, but also precisely because of its ubiquitous occurrence in prefixes and suffixes. It is obvious that it makes for difficulties in reading when these extremely frequent building blocks are read incorrectly: Accordingly, this ensures a high number of errors.

From these factual necessities, one can deduce what, conversely, is rather a hindrance when learning to read.

Not helpful is

  • reading letter by letter instead of writing characters and word components
  • reading in syllables, as these unnecessarily divide the stems of words, but the endings are straight not separate them at the right place and additionally encourage stretching in always long vowels.

Of course, new letters must first be practiced individually and then in conjunction with 1-2 other letters. Especially in the beginning, when only a few letters are known, you can’t avoid very short words or pseudo words. But even when creating these small reading tasks, one should not only start from syllables, but already consider which combinations are representative for the German language. It is important to work specifically with long and short vowels already here. If one thinks in syllables, however, it is obvious that one concentrates on stressed syllables, i.e. those with long vowels, and disregards the short ones. So instead of reading only "Mo", "Ma", "Lo", "La", a morpheme-oriented exercise would look like this:

Why you learn to read better with word blocks than with syllables

If many or all of the letters are known, whole words are usually used. Then the division into syllables really comes into its own. The division into syllables is problematic, because it lets more important other characteristics of the words fade into the background.

An example: the word "children’s shoes" contains the following word stems (bold) and endings, which structure the word in an easily understandable way:

"Child – he – SHOE – e".

The "i" in "child" is pronounced short and the endings "er" and "e" are also pronounced short.

If you read in syllables, it becomes:

"Kin –the – shu – he".

The disadvantages of reading in syllables are manifold:

  • Mostly the students speak all vowels long, although in this word the "u" is actually the only long vowel. The distorts the word in such a way that it becomes more difficult to recognize when read as "Kiiiiin-deeeeer-schuuu-hee". This reduces the chance of motivational, successful learning.
  • At the same time disguises, that the word "child" at the end is pronounced with "t" instead of "d" (later important for spelling: Pronunciation hardening).
  • It also comes across to novice readers as if the word is coming "the" as a constituent what they additionally Confuse can. The short spoken ending "er" on the other hand (spoken as short [ə] ) cannot be confused with another word.
  • The Dealing with word stems and endings (important for grammar) is not learned this way, because the word stems "child" and "shoe" are split up.
  • That in reality dumb h, that the length of the u is marked (as uh) now audible spoken. This is not only wrong, but also harms spelling, since this h as a length marker belongs to the "uh".

It is therefore trendy, but not helpful, to divide even whole reading exercises and texts into syllables by color. In the end, the speech syllables have only two important roles in German, which do not yet affect beginning German instruction to any significant degree: syllables are important for correctly understanding the rhythm in poems – but poem analysis and meter are not taught at all at this level in elementary school. The only thing that concerns elementary school students is the word division at the end of the line. However, this is such a minor issue compared to learning to read that the topic in the 3. or. 4. is in good hands in the first grade.

Who does not want to believe it, can make gladly once the comparison and let its pupils practise test after the system specified.

Instead of reading words divided into syllables as here

to use words with word element structuring and marking of lengths and shortenings:

You can see the word stems at first glance, and that is much more important and helpful for successful sense-reading than the division into syllables. If early in the reading learning process, targeted practice is given to pronounce the endings correctly, this increases in my experience – especially in the promotion of children with didactogenic reading difficulties – the number of words understood at first attempt, i.e. read correctly very strongly.

As soon as the reading learning process is completed, i.e. all writing characters are mastered automatically, the markings will be dispensed with. After all, they do not occur in normal texts either. From this point on, the children read normal texts, so there is no need to fear that they will unlearn to speak in syllables and later learn to separate at the end of lines more poorly. Apart from that, especially in the case of dyslexics, everyone should be happy if reading is successful, while occasional errors in word separation at the end of the line are hardly an impairment.

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5 thoughts to "Why you learn to read better with word blocks than with syllables"

Hello Mrs. Stiehler,
I hope I haven’t asked the following one before, because it keeps coming to mind: are there any studies on how far the syllable representation, if applicable. even hinders the reading flow of practiced readers? In our textbook, even in grades 3 and 4, texts are still printed in syllabic form. For me personally, I have the impression that reading these texts is more exhausting and less fluid.

Dear Mr. Emrich,

I have addressed your question directly to Prof. I have forwarded this to Thome and will be happy to give you his answer as soon as I have heard from him!
Warm greetings,
Miriam Stiehler

It is important to pursue your method with heart and soul. I have taught according to all current reading methods and only as a DAZ teacher additionally experienced , the more one applies a combination of everything for all , success has. Especially there were children who learned the language with us and compared it with their own . They had less trouble in RS than Swiss children. Must be something. Have fun

Thank you for this text, ahwas, the whole page!

My daughter has the 1. She has just finished the first grade and learns in school according to the system with blue and red syllables.
A bit skeptical at first, but I went for it, but I was never quite convinced … … in fact. Now I finally know exactly why.
The fact that my daughter, fortunately independent of the school system, is quick in her thinking, finds the colored syllables very disturbing and would like to do without them, speaks for itself.
She also already reads children’s book texts almost perfectly with adult intonation (that’s her thing) – once based on her evaluation standards(THANKS!!) an existing video analyzed with 110WMP – speed reading an unknown text I haven’t tested yet, let’s see if she gets into it. Finally I can also classify their strength, teachers like to formulate extremely vague. It’s like being overweight, the magical belief that if you don’t weigh yourself, you don’t have any.

In the hope that the language center will take care of the inherent logic itself, I have always given her the tip myself, as soon as she "recognizes" words, to read them aloud as she would speak them. I give her the same advice when writing – read a lot and copy (from her favorite books) so that the correct spelling is memorized. (sense and nonsense of spelling reforms times aside).
In fact, contrary to my advice, she likes to write off the top of her head according to sounds and then incorrectly, which is certainly partly the fault of the school system. Because in school, sometimes even nonsense words are used to see if the child has really learned to read syllables, instead of simply recognizing the words and how they are spelled (resp. as you say even better, the "word components") . In addition with stoppers and clinkers the children are taught something, which I did not even know myself, in order to plug the opening holes.
On the other hand, they break it down logically to the word components inherent in the logic of language. Thanks for this.
Here, by the way, I see it as in her explanation of the arithmetic weaknesses, the task of the children is, after all, essentially to master the logic behind it, and that then enables fluent reading. Instead of shimmying from syllable to syllable and thus getting stuck in demotivating slow reading.

Now I finally have it:
Learning syllables is like counting in arithmetic: a crutch that hinders systematic thinking.

Sun and sun day
that makes sense instead of
Son ne and Sonn tag
or should it not be written much better Son tag after this crude system?

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