Vol. 4. No. 4 CF-1 December 2000
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PA-EFL: A Phonological Awareness Program For Indigenous EFL Students With Hearing Disabilities

Yonovitz, L. and Yonovitz, A.
Australian Hearing, Darwin Centre,
Darwin NT, Australia


Australia's indigenous populations have endemic levels of ear disease (otitis media, or OM) with conductive hearing loss. PA-EFL is a phonological awareness program designed specifically for indigenous Australians who are at high risk for hearing disabilities and who are learning English as a foreign language (EFL). The program was developed during 1996-97 at a school in a remote Aboriginal community on an island off the north coast of the Northern Territory. Subsequently, the Commonwealth Department of Education funded a 1998 project to evaluate the PA-EFL, along with other hearing support services, in an effort to improve indigenous literacy. Hearing support services were provided to 1032 indigenous students representing 106 rural and remote Aboriginal communities. Pre- and post-testing with norm referenced reading and spelling tests, as well as with PA-EFL, documented remarkable literacy gains and contributed to understanding the relationship between ear disease and low literacy levels

Derived from a project entitled, "Advancing Indigenous Literacy Through Intervention for Hearing Disabilities," conducted cooperatively by the Menzies School of Health Research, Australian Hearing and the Association of Independent Schools of the Northern Territory and funded by the Commonwealth of Australia through the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.


Over the past two decades there has been increasing attention to the metalinguistics of literacy (e.g., Nelson, 1993). From infancy, children formulate and test hypotheses about languageミits forms, meanings, and uses. Pre-verbal babies can be heard to produce their infant jargon with rising and falling inflection patterns in imitation of the questions and comments of their communication partners. During their preschool years, children acquire many genres of spoken language and become aware of written language, if print literacy is well represented in their social environment. For many indigenous peoples around the world, however, traditional creation stories, law and customs have been transmitted to younger generations through speech, sign language, song, dance and painting, but not through written language (Walsch & Yallop, 1993; Nathan, 1996). When indigenous children from non-literate traditional communities come to Eurocentric schools, they have a wealth of knowledge not available to mainstream students. But, what they don't have is comparable metalinguistic foundations for literacy. In fact, literacy levels remain depressed for many indigenous populations (Collins, 1999; Kemp, 1999; House of Representatives, 2000). They may also not have normal hearing

Key metalinguistic concepts include phonemic and phonological awareness, terms that have sometimes been used interchangeably (Board of Directors, 1998). In this report, "phonemic awareness" will refer to sound-letter, or phoneme-grapheme, associations. Reversibility between the encoding and decoding of sounds and letters is intrinsic to this concept, which is typically introduced to children in the first years of formal education. "Phonological awareness" will be considered a much broader and more deeply rooted metalinguistic construct involving auditory processing and mental manipulation skills. During the preschool years, children with normal hearing can typically attend to environmental sounds, naming them, imitating them, and describing them. For those who hear well enough, speech sounds can be matched as the same, discriminated as different, repeated, blended together, substituted for rhyming and reassembled into nonsense words just for fun. Such playing with sounds represents the phonological awareness that emerges in preschool aged children and can be shaped into auditory foundations of literacy (Olofsson & Niedersoe, 1999).

Studies of phonological awareness as an index of emergent literacy have been conducted in a number of countries around the world, most often with 5- to 8-year-old children as subjects. There is now abundant evidence that children spontaneously develop auditory-oral metalinguistic proficiency as a component of normal language development. It is also apparent that children do not spontaneously associate spoken or signed utterances with written language symbols unless they are provided with adequate models or otherwise taught to do so (Chaney, 1992; Busnick, 1997). Many indigenous cultures have not traditionally had written languages and have to make an enormously difficult transition to be included in literate society.

Australian indigenous languages are very dynamic, in that words flow rapidly in and out of use, and there is sharing of spoken language forms among language groups that interact socially (Walsh & Yallop, 1993). There are unknown numbers of extinct unwritten languages that were spoken for many thousands of years, but died out in a generation or two with the onset of European colonization. It is especially difficult for indigenous peoples without a tradition of written language, the majority of whom also have significant hearing disabilities (Boswell et al., 1993; Neinhuys et al., 1993) and are coping with diseases of poverty and massive cultural change (House of Representatives, 2000). Literacy is a tool that indigenous peoples must have to gain access to power in society. But, how can Australian indigenous groups obtain literacy?

First, we must identify the differences between Australian languages and English, since multicultural Australia is a monolingual, English-speaking country (e.g., Nathan, 1996). When Captain James Cook and his crew made the first significant European contact with native Australians in the late eighteenth century, there were an estimated 250 Australian languages, each with a number of variants. Since then, at least 160 of those languages have disappeared, and another 70 are endangered, with diminishing numbers of speakers. Only about 20 Australian languages are considered strong enough to endure, if preserved through written documentation and encouragement of its continued social use by language group members. For indigenous Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander), languages are "genetic" (Walsh & Yallop, 1993), in that they are believed to have been generated by Dreamtime (creation) spirits as they passed over the lands. Languages are therefore indigenous to specific areas of the land, and are only secondarily linked to a group of humans. According to Aboriginal beliefs, all living creatures, including humans, sprang from specific places and share a "Dreaming" that has a totemic name and very powerful spiritual essence. People who share a bond with a specific "country" may be referred to in English as a patrilineal "clan" or as a "tribe," depending on how they identify themselves for the purpose of establishing land claims in modern times. Within each clan or tribe, there are a number (usually 4 or 8) of "skin" groups, inherited through the mother and which determine, for example, who should marry (Bourke et al., 1994).

Similarity in grammatical structure across Australian languages suggests that they all evolved from a common ancestral language (e.g., Nathan, 1996). Shared or similar word forms also reveal the migratory paths that have brought indigenous groups into contact to trade, share news, intermarry and otherwise form liaisons. Indigenous Australians have typically been fluent in several languages, and have considered it respectful to speak the language that belongs with the land being traversed. The loss of indigenous languages has had a profound deleterious impact on traditional cultures. Only through the land-language nexus can the proper "Dreaming" be taught to younger generations through ceremonies and lessons that can only be conducted in the appropriate language.

The phonology of Australian languages has become a major focus of those who would preserve those languages and facilitate acquisition of literacy in both indigenous languages and in English. These languages are very different from English in phonology. For instance, most Australian languages do not distinguish between voiced and voiceless consonants, such as /p/-/b/, /t/-/d/, /k/-/g/, and /ch/-/j/. They contain few, if any fricatives, like /th/, /f/, /sh/, or /s/. Reports of voiceless fricatives in older forms of certain languages suggest the possibility that ear disease has contributed to the dropping out of speech sounds that have weak acoustic energy. Analysis of English-based creoles gives further insight into the phoneme substitutions of indigenous language groups. Because native Australians typically speak several indigenous languages, and because those languages are very different from English, the designation "efl" seems far more appropriate than "esl" for native Australian literacy learners.

For the 1998 school year (which is the calendar year in Australia), the Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (detya) funded a number of projects to improve indigenous literacy levels. This is a report of one detya funded project, "Advancing Indigenous literacy with support for hearing services."


This project was designed to demonstrate the link between ear disease, conductive hearing loss, and low English literacy. We intended, furthermore, to demonstrate that indigenous students of any age, who typically make little or no progress in literacy, can make significant progress in reading and spelling during a school year if provided with hearing support services.

A collaboration was formed between the Menzies School of Health Research, Australian Hearing and the Association of Independent Schools of the Northern Territory. Six independent schools indicated their desire to participate in the project. Subsequently, 1032 indigenous students between 4 and 22 years of age were provided hearing support services. Approximately 85% of the students were from remote traditional Aboriginal communities and were boarding at city schools for secondary age students. The following is a brief summary of procedures followed.

1. In-service education

We began with two-day workshops for each school for teachers and assistant

teachers, community liaison officers, and other school staff working directly with indigenous students at the six schools. Day 1 focused on ear disease and how auditory deprivation during early childhood causes incomplete development of neural structures in the brain and negatively impacts language development. Our audiologist provided facts about hearing test results and implications for schools. We also discussed educational philosophy regarding the appropriateness of support services for hearing disabilities. Learner characteristics of indigenous students were identified and associated with their high prevalence of om.

Day 2 involved intensive instruction in the rationale for phonological awareness programming designed specifically for indigenous language-users who are EFL students. Also explored was the reality of classroom acoustics. School listened in simulated quiet and noisy hearing environments with various levels of conductive hearing loss. fm hearing aids and classroom sound field systems were also demonstrated. We discussed the advantages and limitations of amplification systems and explored how teachers can creatively structure learning environments to promote inclusion of students with hearing disabilities. The in-service training sessions concluded with a negotiated plan for how each school would access the project resources. We also identified what consultation style each school staff preferred. Finally, we articulated a shared commitment to stay as energized as we possibly could, even throughout Term 4 (which is hot and stormy in the Top End).

2. FM sound field amplification systems and hearing aids

Sound field systems and wireless microphones were provided for all of the classrooms in the participating schools with two exceptions. School 4 had already obtained these systems for their Intensive English (Aboriginal) classrooms, and two other schools had some building design problems that made the speaker systems in some settings of doubtful benefit. (They can actually amplify unwanted reverberation in some conditions.) A notable contribution of the project was development of software to analyze the acoustics of each classroom and quantify acoustic advantages of a variety of possible modifications.[1]

3. Ear examination and hearing testing

Students found to have active ear disease were followed for medical treatment, in cooperation with families, schools and community clinics.[2] We also included speech discrimination testing in quiet and in various masking noise and competing message conditions to detect symptoms of central auditory processing disorders (cap-D) and discover which students may have exceptional difficulty listening in classroom conditions. The testing we did was not to be confused with the usual school hearing screening. We used a portable audiological testing booth and conducted diagnostic testing that was more extensive than the usual clinical test battery. We were looking for the consequences of persisting conductive hearing loss (chl), which are medically preventable or treatable, so generally do not exist in general populations of Australian majority students. Students who met Australian Hearing criteria for personal hearing aids or individual fm classroom assistive listening devices were fitted, if consent was given.[3]

4. Norm referenced reading and spelling pre- and post-testing

For the literacy pre- and post-testing, we chose the Waddington Diagnostic Reading and Spelling Tests (Waddington, 1988), because they could be group-administered and had been normed for Australian students. To our knowledge, there are no published reading and spelling tests that have been developed and normed specifically for indigenous Australian students learning English as a foreign language.

5. Criterion referenced diagnostic phonological awareness testing

Pre- and post-testing also included the PA-EFL criterion-referenced, diagnostic test (see Appendix A). This instrument was designed specifically for Australian indigenous EFL students, does not give age scores which result in comparison of indigenous students to much younger non-indigenous children, and is therefore culturally-appropriate and useful for planning individualized intervention. Furthermore, the PA-EFL test is administered in pseudowords of increasing length and complexity. In Part One, there is a practice word, "OT". Students can receive assistance in understanding the task demands, and additional "pretend" words can be given for practice. The ten items in Part One include vowel + consonant and consonant + vowel syllables, essentially surveying short vowels as they co-articulate with beginning and ending consonants. Part Two is only administered to students who have completed Level Three of the PA-EFL program. The practice word is "TIG", and again practice is given until students show evidence that they understand the task demands. The next ten items progress from consonant + short vowel + consonant to pseudowords with consonant clusters and multiple syllables.

In a pilot project during 1996 and 1997, the PA-EFL test had been administered in two mainstream Year 2-3 classrooms to ensure that Northern Territory majority culture children from 7 to 9 years of age performed similarly on it to norms of published pa assessment instruments. Those 38 students scored between 74% and 100% of the items correct, as would be predicted for typical English-speaking children who had been raised in a print-rich literacy environment.

Pre- and post-testing with the PA-EFL was conducted in classrooms with live voice and use of fm classroom amplification systems, including fm personal assistive listening devices for students who required them.

6. Phonological awareness intervention

In general, phonological awareness intervention establishes auditory foundations for phonics and has typically targeted primary-aged students who are having difficulty learning to read. Our PA-EFL program was developed and tested as a trial with secondary-aged indigenous students in a remote Aboriginal community during 1996 and 1997.

The program was designed for delivery by teachers, in game formats appropriate for the age and literacy levels of their students (see Appendix B). Two speech pathologists, one based in Darwin and the other in Alice Springs, provided consultation to school staff members, as well as direct intervention for students who needed individual attention. The consultation model was adapted to the characteristics and preferences of each school. The PA-EFL program is outlined as follows:

Pre-Phonics Level
A. Same-different
B. Inclusion-exclusion
C. Deletion and substitution
Level One: Alphabet
A. Sound-letter-key word recitation
B. Cues for sound-letter associations
Level Two: Segmentation
A. Alliteration
B. Blending of CV's and CVC's (C = consonant, V = vowel)
C. Rhyming with CVC's
Level Three: Short Vowels
A. Multisensory experience
B. Discrimination in CVC minimal pairs
Level Four: Long Vowels and Dipthongs
A. Silent E
B. Double vowel combinations
C. R colored vowels
D. Irregular combinations (e.g., ough)

Level Five: Multisyllabic Sequences (2 and 3 syllables) Level Six: Consonant Clusters (2 and 3 consonants)

Based upon standardization procedures for EFL students, the PA-EFL test, percent scores predict competence at Levels One through Six. A separate test was designed to assess pre-phonics skills. Also predicted are school year levels for indigenous EFL students if, as would be ideal, they received this program along with other necessary hearing support services from the beginning of their school experience.

Interpretation of PA-EFL Test Percent Scores for EFL Learners
0% - 25%Pre-PhonicsTransition (Kindergarten)
26% - 50%Level OneYear 1
51% - 65%Level TwoYear 2
66% - 75%Level ThreeYear 3
76% - 85%Level FourYear 4
86% - 95%Level FiveYear 5
96% - 100%Level SixYear 6


Table 1. Subjects by Schools





Mean Age









12.19 - 18.35







10.55 - 22.14







4.25 - 12.05







11.60 - 19.04







10.16 - 17.23







6.16 - 16.40







4.25 - 22.14

The 1032 indigenous students who received services during this project represented 106 traditional rural/remote communities. Approximately 85% were secondary-age (15-22 years) students at boarding schools in Darwin or Alice Springs. The remaining 15% were generally primary-age (5-14 years) and were attending local community schools. There were comparable numbers of male and female students, and the low mean age (13.23 years) for this group of mostly secondary-age students reflects the trend of school leaving among Aboriginal students before 15 years, the minimum age for compulsory attendance.

Further breakdown of age categories of students by schools is based on the following:

Primary (5-11 yrs.)

Intermediate (12-14 yrs.)

Adult (15-22 yrs.) [4]

Table 2. Subjects by Age Categories and Schools










































Figures 1-3 indicate central tendency statistics for literacy indicators at each of the six schools. The derived scores were based on the total number of tests completed at the beginning and at the end of the year, regardless of whether individual students were available for both tests. Since new students were admitted throughout the year to replace students who had left, tests taken at the end of the year were not considered true "post-tests" and therefore not valid indicators of literacy progress. For that reason, the figures best represent overall literacy levels at the beginning and end of the 1998 school year, which is the calendar year in Australia.

Tables 3 ミ 5 show the difference between pre- and post-test scores for only those students who attended school enough to be available for both tests, and who also met the additional criterion of having attended at least 75% of school days. Differences between their pre- and post-test scores are preferred indicators of literacy progress.

Figure 1. Phonological Awareness Percent Scores with Standard Error Bars

Norm-Referenced Reading and Spelling Testing

The Waddington Diagnostic Reading and Spelling Tests were administered as early as possible in Term 1 and at the end of the school year. Figures 2 and 3 show, for each school, all available pre- and post-scores, regardless of whether individual students were available for both beginning and end-of-year testing. The scores are reading and spelling age equivalents in years and months (converted to decimals).

Figure 2. Reading Pre- and Post-test Age Scores with Standard Error Bars

Figure 3. Spelling Pre- and Post-Test Age Scores with Confidence Intervals

Significance Tests for Phonological Awareness Progress (%)

Table 3 presents the mean differences for those students for whom both a pre- and post-test occurred. The corresponding probability was obtained. For each school and overall, the null hypothesis was rejected and the differences were statistically significant.

Table 3. Significance Tests for Phonological Awareness Testing


Mean difference



Value (N, t, df, p)

No. 1


N=19, t=6.38, df=18, p<.001

No. 2


N=64, t=10.73, df=63, p<.001

No. 3


N=39, t=4.57, df=38, p<.001

No. 4


N=209, t=18.74, df= 208, p<.001

No. 5


N=18, t=9.81, df=17, p<.001

No. 6


N=8, t=4.93, df= 7, p=.002



N=340, t=23.72, df=339, p<.001

Significance Tests for Reading Progress (Year)

Table 4 presents the mean differences for those students for whom both a pre- and post-test occurred. The corresponding probability value was obtained. For each school and overall the null hypothesis was rejected, and the differences were statistically significant.

Table 4. Significance Tests for Reading Levels


Mean difference



Value (N, t, df, p)

No. 1


N=17, t=7.07, df=16, p<.001

No. 2


N=62, t=8.20, df=61, p<.001

No. 3


N=28, t=2.25, df=27, p=.033

No. 4


N=217, t=17.68, df=216, p<.001

No. 5


N=8, t=2.85, df=7, p=.025

No. 6


N=9, t=3.88, df=8, p=.005



N=342, t=19.71, df=341, p<.001

Significance Tests for Spelling Progress (Year)

Table 5 presents the mean differences for those students for whom both a pre-and post-test occurred. The corresponding probability value was obtained. For each school, with the exception of school number 5 (N=7), and overall, the null hypothesis was rejected and the differences were statistically significant.

Table 5. Significance Tests for Spelling


Mean difference



Value (N, t, df, p)

No. 1


N=17, t=9.39, df=16, p<.001

No. 2


N=64, t=8.75, df=63, p<.001

No. 3


N=23, t=2.86, df=22, p=.009

No. 4


N=213, t=28.18, df=212, p<.001

No. 5


N=7, t=1.36, df=6, p=.221

No. 6


N=9, t=5.25, df=8, p=.001



N=333, t=26.92, df=332, p<.001

Pearson Correlations Between Pre-Test Values

Table 6 presents the significant (p<.001) correlations between the norm referenced spelling and reading tests and the criterion referenced test of phonological awareness.

Table 6. Correlations Among Spelling and Reading Age Scores and pa Percent Scores


Spelling Age

Reading Age Phonological Awareness

Spelling Age


Reading Age








A measure of delay in acquiring literacy is available (Table 7) by subtracting the chronological age from the derived reading age. While interpretations of these values should be made with caution, they generally indicate an approximate delay of six years for indigenous students when using reading and spelling tests standardized with mainstream Australian students.

Means and Standard Deviations for Chronological Age subtracted from Reading Age and Spelling Age For Each School

Table 7. Means and Standard Deviations for Chronological Age -- Reading and Spelling Age by Schools


Chrono Age-

Reading Age (N: SD)

Chrono Age-

Spelling Age (N: SD)

No. 1


32: 1.93


29: 2.15

No. 2


78: 1.81


86: 1.93

No. 3


40: 2.96


37: 3.28

No. 4


225: 1.63


231: 1.67

No. 5


9: 2.25


6: 2.36

No. 6


15: 1.28


16: 1.68



399: 2.21


405: 2.26


Phonological Awareness Levels and Progress

Figure 1 reflects the phonological awareness (pa) percent scores, which ranged from 19.58% to 62.71% at the beginning of the year and from 26.47% to 81.92% at the end of the year. These predominantly secondary-aged indigenous students, in general, demonstrated phonological awareness comparable to that of mainstream students in Transition (kindergarten) to Year 3, or between approximately five to nine years of age.

Table 3 gives progress scores for students who 1) attended at least 75% of school days, and 2) were present for both pre- and post-testing. With an overall mean difference of 16.85% between pre- and post-test scores, these students demonstrated over one year of pa progress, since an average increase of 15% per year is expected at the lower levels of the pa program. There was no significant ceiling effect, and there were no significant age or gender effects. As stated previously, 85% of the students in the project were secondary age. Their pa levels were generally low and their scores essentially ranged within the lower levels of the PA-EFL program. Given these findings, we presume that these students had not previously made pa progress comparable to their non-indigenous peers during the first four years of formal education.

Reading and Spelling Levels and Progress

Figure 2 represents mean reading age scores by schools, ranging from 6.06 to 8.47 years at the beginning of the year and from 6.09 to 9.06 at the end of the year. Overall, the indigenous students, regardless of age, were reading at approximately Year 1-3 levels. It should be noted that scores for the subset of students who met the attendance criteria for reporting progress were embedded in these data.

Table 4 indicates reading progress of approximately 10 months (.80 year) for the students meeting the attendance criteria. Given the generally low literacy levels of the students, it can again be presumed that they had not made as much progress in previous years.

Figure 3 represents mean spelling age scores by schools, ranging from 5.80 to 8.00 at the beginning of the year and from 6.0 to 8.2 at the end of the year. Table 5 indicates spelling progress of approximately 10 months (.82 year), similar to reading progress, for the students meeting the attendance criteria. Reading and Spelling Levels and Progress data were consistent with pa Levels and Progress. In other words, the criterion-referenced PA-EFL instrument predicted both literacy levels and literacy progress. This finding is corroborated by the correlations presented in Table 6.

Table 7 provides a cumulative distribution approach to summarizing the literacy delay in the indigenous students in this project.

One outcome of the project reported in part here is description of the state of literacy among indigenous Australian students than had not previously been available. The goal of this report, however, is to describe the PA-EFL program and its relevance for indigenous students at high risk for ear disease, hearing disabilities and poor literacy. During the course of this extensive project, which included a full range of hearing support services, the relationship between reading, spelling, and phonological awareness was explored. Norm-referenced tests of literacy are often not culturally appropriate for diverse learners, such as indigenous students from non-literate and non-English speaking communities. Yet, it is important to establish benchmark measures in order to better understand the social disadvantage of such students in contemporary world society. The PA-EFL program offers a criterion-referenced and culturally sensitive means of charting students' progress. It's high correlation with norm-referenced reading and spelling tests supports its usefulness as a literacy indicator.

Throughout the project, English spelling conventions were taught in a combination of pseudoword and English language word contexts. Stimulus complexity was controlled by focusing first on two-sound combinations and gradually increasing the length and complexity of sound sequences. The process was essentially metalinguistic in nature, and involves segmentation, substitution, deletion, addition and blending of speech sounds. Since pseudowords have no meaning, top-down perceptual processing does not interfere with bottom-up auditory processing.

It was typical of the indigenous students in the project to resist attempting to write any word they were not confident they could spell. Most appeared to be using few if any phonics skills for reading or writing. Whole word sight recognition and recall was evidently their only literacy strategy. Resistance to attempt invented spelling faded when the students were assured these were "pretend" words (or words that might be spoken on Jupiter). Almost invariably, students were motivated to participate in the group game-playing format of the PA-EFL program. Many teachers reported that these listening experiences contributed to their students' insight into the structures of spoken and written language. It is important to keep in mind that these were students for whom written language itself is a foreign concept.

Many of the teachers participating in the project pointed out the benefits to their students' oracy attributable to heightened phonological awareness. Teachers commented that their indigenous students were becoming more confident and effective communication partners with non-indigenous students and teaching staff. Since most of the Aboriginal students were not included in mainstream classrooms, teachers hoped their students' improved literacy and oracy would eventually result in greater mainstream inclusion and more access to mainstream curricula.

Linguists involved in documenting endangered Australian languages apply English orthography with adaptations for indigenous speech sounds that are not heard in English. Similarly, the PA-EFL program encourages students to spell words in their own indigenous languages. It is sincerely hoped that such heightened metalinguistic awareness will contribute to the preservation of the Australian languages that have not already been lost.


We believe that indigenous Australian children who learn English as a "school" language are disadvantaged by a number of factors, including the following:

While there is a strong desire among indigenous parents for their children to keep their own culture, language and identity, there is also a prevalent belief that "both-way" education is possible and desirable for indigenous students. To succeed, however, we believe bilingual programs would have to immerse indigenous children in spoken and written English for substantial portions of each day from Transition (kindergarten) onward. In addition, the same phonics spelling formulas would have to be applied to the spoken indigenous language(s) in the community, and there would have to be strong commitment among all community members to move towards a culture of literacy in homes, as well as in public areas. The advantages of such a profound commitment would include stabilizing the form of indigenous languages, which have previously been spoken and have therefore changed rapidly in form in response to social incursions. It would have the additional benefit of reversing the trend toward communication breakdown between generations.


Indigenous Australians, who are believed to have the world's highest known prevalence of otitis media, have been noted to have delayed literacy development and low tertiary literacy levels. Phonological awareness is highly correlated with reading and spelling test scores; therefore, intervention to promote this cluster of metalinguistic skills and knowledge of English language spelling conventions can be expected to transfer to other English literacy competencies. Teaching formats allow the program to be adapted to the age, skill and interest levels of students from preschoolers to adults. The PA-EFL program can be used in combination with existing esl curricula and should not cause interference with already published phonics programs. Because of its extensive use of pseudowords, the PA-EFL program can also be used to help preserve endangered indigenous languages and contribute to emergent literacy in communities that have not traditionally been literate. It is hoped that, through these and other efforts to support metalinguistic foundations for literacy, diverse learners such as these will become more confident and successful students.


This project represents a collaboration between the Menzies School of Health Research, Australian Hearing and the Association of Independent Schools of the Northern Territory. The authors especially acknowledge the contributions of Kath Phelan, executive officer, aisnt, Rebecca McCullough, an audiologist who is now with Australian Hearing, and Sharyn Winders, a speech pathologist with Territory Health Services.

The project was funded by the Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (detya). The views expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the views of detya..


[1] This computer-assisted analysis of classroom acoustics is being reported in a separate publication.

[2] Hearing testing included pure tone air conduction and bone conduction, with masking as needed.

[3] Results of ear examination and hearing testing are being reported in separate publications.

[4] Among the indigenous people involved in this project, it is preferred to designate a young person an "adult" when they are 15 or have had the appropriate initiation ceremony, whichever comes first. The age categories represent an attempt to report findings in as culturally-appropriate manner as possible.


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Bourke, C., Bourke, E., & Edwards, B. (1994). Aboriginal Australia. St. Lucia, qld: University of Queensland Press.

Busink, R. (1997). Reading and phonological awareness: What we have learned and how we can use it. Reading Research and Instruction, 36:3, 199-215.

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Collins, B. (1999). Learning lessons: An independent review of indigenous education in the Northern Territory, Canberra: detya.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs. (2000). Health is life: Report on the inquiry into indigenous health. Canberra: The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Kemp, D. (1999). Setting the scene, Unicorn, 25:3. 1-5.

Nathan, D. (Ed.), (1996). Australia's indigenous languages, Wayville, sa: Senior Secondary Assessment Board if South Australia.

Neinhuys, T., Boswell, J. & Lay, K. (1992). Middle ear condition and hearing deficit in a sample of Aboriginal adults. Australian Journal of Otolaryngology, 1:2, 137-146.

Nelson, N.W. (1993). Childhood language disorders in context: Infancy through adolescence, New York: Macmillan.

Olofsson, A., & Niedersoe, J. (1999). Early language development and kindergarten phonological awareness as predictors of reading problems: From 3 to 11 years of age. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 32:5, 464-472.

Waddington, N.J. (1988). Diagnostic Reading and Spelling Tests. Waddington Educational Resources. Pooraka, South Australia: Modbury Press.

Walsh, M., & Yallop, C. (1993). Language and culture in Aboriginal Australia, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Appendix A: PA-EFL Test

CLASSROOM: ___________


NAME:  ____________________________     DATE: ________________



(Tick items passed.)

___   1. A B                           ___  6. A T                             

___   2. U D                           ___  7. I L      

___   3. E P                           ___  8. O M           

___   4. O G                           ___  9. E  Z         

___   5. R  E                          ___ 10. U V        



(Score number of correct/permissible letters)

___   1. B A F                         ____   6.  W H E T T L E

___   2. W U M                         ____   7.  T H R I N G                               

___   3. K E D                         ____   8.  F L U D G E

___   4. N E S H                       ____   9.  Q U I M W A F F I T  (kwim)

___   5. H O T C H                     ____  10.  S H R I C K A B L E  (ible)

PART ONE:___ of 10 = ___%; PART TWO:___ of 57 =___%; TOTAL:___%

Appendix B: PA-EFL Program


Phonological awareness for EFL students
Level one: alphabet

Sound-letter-key word associations

Beginning sound segmentation and blending

At Level One, students learn that alphabet letters represent speech sounds. In young children, this understanding evolves over time and usually begins with rote memorisation of the alphabet in songs and games. The Alphabet Song (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Baa Baa Black Sheep) can be used with care that children don't have the misconcept that there is a letter named "Elemenow" (L, M, N, O) in the middle of the alphabet!

It is helpful to have a large set of alphabet picture cards on display in the classroom and another set of laminated ones to use in Level One activities.

Older esl students can begin with memorisation of sound-letter-key word associations for the entire alphabet. They should be able to place words in alphabetical order and use a dictionary. Teach them that some alphabet letters, specifically C, Q and X, do not have sounds of their own. Also, some sounds, such as sh, ch and th do not have letters of their own. There are also ambiguous letters that sometimes make another letter's sound, as when G sounds like a J in certain contexts (which will be taught later in the programme).

It is important to ensure that all students have Pre-Phonics Level competencies before getting into the sound-symbol associations of Level One. For example, students should be able to hear and feel the differences between English language speech sounds that are similar, such as ch and sh, th and f, ch and j, s and z, etc. For many esl students, the R and L sounds are particularly difficult to discriminate. For students still confusing English speech sounds with each other, use cues to help them notice the differences. Teach students to imitate your cues. This will help them feel, as well as listen for the differences between English sounds that are confusing for them.

Keep in mind that the ability to learn a new language generally decreases with age. After about 8-10 years of age, it becomes increasingly difficult to think in a new language and to hear the sounds of the new language well enough to speak it without "an accent". That's why it's so important to lay a strong foundation!


  1. Touch the front of the throat to indicate when there is voice in a sound. For example, touch the front of the throat to cue the difference between P and B, T and D, K and G, S and Z, ch and J.
  2. For a sustained airflow sound like sh, hold a finger in front of the lips. For a sound burst sound like ch, quickly move the finger away from the lips in a rapid forward movement.
  3. For a nasal sound, place a finger on the side of the nose. This should help cue the difference between M and B, N and D, ng and G.
  4. For a back of the mouth sound, place a finger under the place where the jaw meets the front of the neck. This cues the K, G, and ng sounds, all of which are hard to see.

Teachers should feel confident to use other cues as needed to help individual students. It may require consultation with a speech pathologist to assist students with speech and language disabilities.

Suggested activities:

Note: Teach the students that these are "Listening and Spelling" games and that they are all to be very quiet and listen carefully when you are giving the sounds. If you have a classroom sound field amplification system, use the microphone to good advantage. Never speak loudly into it, especially if there are children in the class who need to wear an fm hearing aid tuned to the same frequency as the speaker system. Loud sounds become very distorted with amplification and might even be painful to children wearing hearing aids! Speak softly with the microphone very close to your lips. Get the children used to quieting and listening carefully when you speak softly that way. Sometimes the sound level builds up when there's a speaker system in the classroom. Teach the children that if it gets too noisy, you will turn the system off as a signal to them that you want them to quiet down. Then turn it back on and speak softly into the microphone to emphasise that they should quiet down and be ready to listen.

The following activities are ordered for younger-to-older students:

  1. To the tune of "old mc donald", sing, "What is the letter this sound has?" (then repeat the sound three times). The children sing the letter name three times in response and to the ongoing tune of the song.
  2. To the tune of "if you're happy and you know it", sing, "If you know this sound say its name" (then repeat the sound three times). The children say the letter name together.
  3. Place three hula hoops on the floor, with the children forming a circle around them. Ask each child in turn to jump from one hoop to another as they say the sounds in three-letter words. "Word families" are recommended, such as words that rhyme with it, ap, ug, ock, etc. For example, you give a child the word "hop" to sound out while jumping. Other children can help the child if needed, so the jumping child can "jump all the way to safety". For older, better-coordinated children, the rule may be that they have to jump from foot-to-foot, rather than on both feet. If they pause to think of the next sound, they have to balance on that foot.
  4. Spelling kick ball is an outside or large room activity requiring a big rubber ball. Have the children form a circle. The teacher pronounces cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) real or pretend words one sound at a time. Children have to blend the sounds together in their minds and pronounce the word before they kick the ball to someone else in the circle. The child who captures the ball has the next go. Teachers seem to instinctively know how to see that every child has a fair go in this type of game. When sounding out the words, be sure to avoid adding extra vowels. For example, with dog, be careful it won't sound like duh-aw-guh when it's blended together.
  5. Simon Says can be adapted into a listening and spelling activity. Organise the children into a circle or into two teams lined up along opposite sides of the room. The teacher says to each child in turn, "Simon says, spell bat". The child spells the word and the turn passes to the next child. Occasionally the teacher says, "Spell (another word). If the child responds, the teacher playfully reminds, "Simon didn't say!" To keep the spirit of the game positive and to de-emphasise competition, allow children to "make up" for mistakes, rather than have to sit out. Teammates may be able to help a student having difficulty. Teachers know their students' capabilities and can adjust the difficulty of the words to the ability of each child without being obvious.

Note: Try to schedule at least one "Listening and Spelling" activity each day. Teachers who will have these students in more advanced classes will be very thankful for the good foundation English literacy you have given these children!


Phonological awareness for EFL students
Level two: Segmentation

Sound additions, deletions, and substitutions

At Level Two, students are assisted in becoming aware that speech sounds are language tools that can be isolated and manipulated. Sounds can be added, taken away, and substituted at will. Students gain confidence that they can control language symbols, and this can result in reduced anxiety about being able to read and spell in English. When metalinguistic awareness (thinking about language) is fostered through games and other enjoyable group activities, the experience of developing English literacy becomes pleasurable, rather than threatening.

Suggested activities:

  1. Students line up along two opposite sides of the room to form two teams. Each in turn must be able to say (not spell) a word beginning with the sound the teacher specifies. Start with more common first sounds, eg. S, T, L, R, and ending with the least common, eg., qu, V, Z, X. By process of elimination, the champion is the last student that remains standing (and who probably knows a word like "x-ray"). Students having difficulty can be prepared to participate by being discreetly advised in advance what sound will be given them. This "levels the playing field" and preserves self-esteem. If this task is too easy for your students, require them to think of a word that ends with a designated sound. Teachers may be able to find ways of promoting cooperation and helping among team members.
  2. The student roll is called with a sound added to the beginning of each name. Students identify the added first sounds. For example, the student's name is "Andrew" and the teacher calls, "Mandrew". The student indicates the "M" sound had been added to the beginning of his name. (This can also be done adding a sound to the end of names, eg., "Andrewm".) Students may need to be asked at the beginning to behave in a mature manner and not ridicule any of these modifications of names. If teasing becomes a problem, names of well-know people could be used instead.
  3. Start a game by saying, "I'm going on a trip to (have the class decide where they'd like to go, eg. the Gold Coast) and I'm going to take (an item that begins with the designated sound)." Each student has to repeat the sentence and the growing list of items that have been named. For example, a student may recite, "I'm going on a trip to the Gold Coast, and I'm going to take paper, a pencil, a pig, a pie, a potato, etc." The champion is the student or team that can remember the most items in sequence. Again, teachers may be able to find ways of promoting cooperation, rather than competition to preserve self-esteem.
  4. "Tongue Twisters" may be an enjoyable challenge for students. A well-known one is Peter Piper. "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?" The most difficult tongue twister in the English language has been reputed to be this one: "The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick." The class may be divided into small groups to create their own tongue twisters, which they present to the class.
  5. Spoonerisms can be fun, too. For example, students correct phrases like, "bittle loy" (little boy), "glose came" (close game), "chish and fips" (fish and chips). Sentences can be used, too. "You're hitting on my sat." (You're sitting on my hat.) Teachers may want to share the story of Lord Spooner, who had a communication disorder characterised by interchanging the first sounds of words.
  6. Any turn-taking game can be played with the requirement of saying a word beginning with a designated sound in a complete sentence before taking a turn. Dismissal can also be conducted this way, time permitting. For example, a student is excused after using a word beginning with the "D" sound in a complete sentence. Allow helping and promote a wholesome, playful atmosphere so that students' attitudes remain positive.

How to help students having difficulty:

Some students learning English as a second language may need assistance learning to say and listen for specific sounds, including F and V, sh and ch, R and L, and the voiced and voiceless th (as in "this" and "thumb"). Any of the above activities can be used to strengthen students' ability to feel how these sounds differ from other sounds when they say them and notice how they sound different from other sounds.

Cues may help students as they learn to say and listen for more difficult English speech sounds. If the voicing contrast is a problem (eg. B or P? T or D? K or G? S or Z? ch or J?), teach students to place an index finger lightly at the front of the throat to feel for the voice. Use the finger-to-throat cue for voicing to help students discriminate B from P, D from T, G from K, Z from S, etc. Start with these sounds before vowels, then after vowels. This is particularly important for students whose first language is characterised by predominantly "open syllables", which end in vowels rather than consonants. It's also harder to hear consonants at the ends of syllables and words, especially if the consonants are voiceless (eg. P, T, K, S, sh, ch, etc.)

You may need to teach some students cues for recognising the difference between sh and ch. Hold your finger steadily in front of your lips for sh to emphasise its prolonged airflow. Contrast that with rapid forward movement of your finger from its position in front of your lips for the ch (as if you blew your finger away) to emphasis the sudden release of air pressure. Start with these sounds before vowels and then after vowels.

F and V are cued by pointing to the upper teeth in position over the bottom lip. Cue the voicing for V with the other index finger at the throat.

Teachers should feel confident to develop their own cues for meeting the needs of individual students having difficulty with specific sound features.


Rhyming may be a particularly difficult concept for EFL learners. Almost all children whose first language is English have rhyming concepts by the time they begin school; yet it is wise to bear in mind that this may be a difficult concept, especially for older students learning English as a "school language".

Start with three-letter "word families" to strengthen an awareness of rhyming. For example, "What is a word that rhymes with (it) and starts with a

(L sound)?" (Make the sound; don't say the letter name.) Continue with bit, sit, fit, hit, kit, mitt, nit, pit, and wit.

Tip: Avoid beginning sounds that would result in embarrassment!

Progress to word families ending with ap, et, ip, ock, ash, itch, and ath. These are important because of EFL students' difficulty identifying the difference between voiced and voiceless sounds, especially at the ends of words. Keep in mind that they may still confuse the P and B, T and D, K and G, S and Z, ch and J sounds. They are also likely to need help developing the ending th sounds, both voiced and voiceless (as in "bathe" and "bath").

Rhyming activity for advanced students:

Teach students to play "higgy piggy" by introducing it as a guessing game with pairs of rhyming words. The person who has thought of one gives a definition of the two words, and the others have to guess what the two

Rhyming words are. If the words have one syllable each, it's a Hig Pig. Two-syllable words are a Higgy Piggy, and three-syllable words are a Higgity Piggity.

Individuals or groups of students may enjoy making up a notebook of Higgy Piggies and drawing illustrations for them.


Hig Pigs (a pair of one-syllable rhyming words):

"A distant bright object in the sky" (far star)
"Air pollution for creatures that croak" (frog smog)
"A small joey" (new 'roo)
"A very trendy french fry" (hip chip)
"Having fun for 24 hours" (play day)

Higgy Piggies (a pair of two-syllable rhyming words):

"A cheerful bit of cloth that babies wear" (happy nappy)
"An uncomplicated dent in a cheek" (simple dimple) or "An uncomplicated sore on someone's face" (simple pimple)
"A gathering to get people to know each other" (greeting meeting)
"A horse barn with lots of tv channels" (cable stable)
"An easygoing chap" (mellow fellow)

Higgity Piggities (a pair of three-syllable words or word combinations)

"A crab that hangs out at the Greyhound depot" (bus station crustacean)
"A rich-looking shirt you allowed someone else to borrow" (opulent top-you-lent)
"When everyone in the foot race has to use the same toilet facility" (marathon share-a-john)
"The feeling you get when prices go up" (inflation sensation)

Higgidity Piggidity (four rhyming syllables)

"An unbelievable toadstool" (incredible inedible)

Higgity Piggidity (rhyming three- and four-syllable words)

"A literarily famous teddy bear with high expectations" (ambitious Aloysius)


Phonological Awareness for EFL students
Level Three: Short vowels

Key words, multisensory experience, minimal pairs

At Level Three, students are taught explicitly and intensively the short vowel sounds and their positions relative to consonants. A combination of real and pretend ("Jupiter") words helps students bring to a conscious level of awareness what they know about short vowels. Level Three should be introduced after "Rhyming" in Level Two.

First, decide on a key word for each of the short vowels. The following have frequently been used:

Yyellow, happy, fly

Keep these on display at the front of the classroom throughout Level Three auditory training. Most EFL students need repeated experience reciting aloud the letter names, the key words and the associated vowel sounds. Call attention to the way each sound feels as tongue and jaw positions change with each vowel sound. Using a multisensory approach, combining vision, hearing and tactile-kinaesthetic cues help students experience the contrasts between the short vowel sounds. Draw particular attention to the difference in the sound and feel of the short E and I sounds ("eh" and "ih").


1) Children who have had many ear infections during infancy and early childhood often have great difficulty learning to discriminate between short vowel sounds. Teachers will need to keep in mind the special problems of students with hearing disabilities and seek professional consultation for those who require it.

2) From Level One on, the digraphs sh, ch and th are included as single consonant sounds. Explain that our alphabet comes from a long, long time ago, and the sounds have gradually changed. We really don't need some old letters like C, Q or X. Maybe we should have some new letters for sh, ch and th. For now, though, we can remember to use H with another letter for those three sounds. Bear in mind that it may be difficult for esl students to hear the difference between sh and ch. Virtually all esl learners have difficulty learning the English th sounds.

minimal pairs: (real and pretend or "Jupiter" words that differ in only one sound) Use paired combinations of these words to focus students' attention on the short vowel differences. Both real and pretend ("Jupiter") words are used so that more sound contrasts can be created for auditory training. Teachers find it convenient to write groups of these word pairs on note cards to keep handy for whenever there are a few minutes for a fun activity, such as those described later.

Real Words:

bin - Ben - ban - bun            pin - pan - pun - pen            fin - fan - fun - fen

man - Min - men                  kin - can - Ken    (explain K is before E and I)

bid - bad - bud - bed            get - got - gut                  hat - hot - hut - hit         

hag - hog - hug                  lit - let - lot                  rig - rag - rug 
Mixing Real and Jupiter Words:
chin - Chan - chun - chen - chon    (contrast ch and sh)     shin - shun - shan - shen      

hig - heg - hag - hog - hug       map - mop - mup - mip - mep     sit - sat - set - sut - sot

kish - cash - cush - cosh - kesh (explain K is before E and I)

can - kin - con - cun - ken       cup - kip - cap - kep - cop     kid - cod - cud - cad - ked

Jupiter Words: (focus on particularly difficult sound contexts)

fith - fath - feth - foth - futh        chish - chash - chush - chosh - chesh

jiv - jav - juv - jov - jev             thish - thush - thash - thosh - thesh

Suggested activities:

  1. "Hangman" is an ideal game context for Level Three. The teacher draws the "gallows" and three horizontal lines below it for a word with a short vowel. Teach your students that the centre space will most likely be a vowel. (The vowels and key words should be in sight as a reminder.) Students work together as a team to solve the puzzle before the stick figure acquires all of its parts: head, torso, legs, arms, eyes, nose and mouth. If the class has been successful in identifying the central vowel and one of the consonants, it's fun to dramatise, especially if only one or two facial features are left. Playfully say, "You can save this man's life!" Ask the group to visualise words that could fit the puzzle. Help them discuss if these are good possibilities and vote on which letter to guess next. A happy outcome is for them to succeed in "saving" the guy and have a cheer for themselves! Use the minimal pairs listed above. Require the spelling of a pair of words before each Hangman turn can be taken. Each game will take about 15-20 minutes and will involve at least 10 pairs of practice words for learning short vowels. Classes seem never to tire of this game!
  2. "Teacher, May I?" Instruct students to form two lines at one end of the room (or wherever there is available space). Give each student at the head of the line a contrasting pair of the words listed above to spell orally. As each succeeds, tell them how many of what kind of steps they can take forward. The number may vary from 1 - 10 and the types of steps can include, "baby steps, giant steps, backward steps, scissor steps, etc." Students must remember to say, "Teacher, May I" before they take their steps, or they lose their turn. (It happens a lot!) This is conducted as a two-team relay event and is best done with smaller classes.
  3. "Crocodile" is a game in which students form a circle. In turn they are given pairs of contrasting words to spell. If they miss a word, they go into the "pool" with the crocodile! One teacher suggested that students still in the circle could have an extra turn to "rescue" a classmate who has fallen into the pool.
  4. "Memory" is a game with flash cards that have matching pairs of words written on them, one word per card. (Choose words from the lists above so that students have to carefully consider the vowels.) The cards are laid on the floor or large table facedown. Students turn over two cards at a time until they find all the matches.
  5. "Snap" and other card games can be used with small groups of students who need extra support for Level Three short vowel learning. Simply require each student to spell a pair of the words listed above before each go at the card game.
  6. A "progressive story" is an enjoyable activity when you have a few minutes to fill in before recess, lunch or dismissal. Draw a low member of the food chain, such as a worm, on the marker board. Explain that the class has to make up a story about how the food chain works. Before each submission to the story, the student must spell a minimal pair of the words listed above. A typical story might be that the worm was swallowed by a bird (draw an arrow to a bird next to the worm, etc.), which is in turn eaten by a cat, and so on. You'll probably get to use at least four or five minimal word pairs in the few minutes available. Another variation of the progressive story is "going on A tiger hunt". Students can submit areas to trek through in the wilds of India to track the tiger. Draw a representation of each landmark, such as rivers crossed and mountains climbed. Again, require each student to spell a minimal pair of words emphasising target sound contrasts before suggesting their landmark.
Teachers are encouraged to use any spare time to fit in a fun activity to reinforce what students have learned about sounds and their spellings. Remember, it's not just daily half-hour "listening lessons", but also taking advantage of these "golden opportunities" that can really help students gain strength in their listening and spelling abilities.


Phonological awareness for EFL students
Level Four: Long vowels and Vowel Combinations
Extension Topics Integrated in Level 4 Level four concepts are taught only after students are proficient with short vowels (Level Three). Keep the short vowel chart with key words in clear view as you introduce Level Four.

Explain that "Long vowels say their letter names." There have to be at least two vowels working together to let one of the vowels say its name.

Silent E Dramatise the power of Silent E to make the first vowel say its name. You may choose to let your students use inductive reasoning to figure out the Silent E rule on their own. Challenge students to compare the pronunciation and spelling of words with and without Silent E, even if they don't know the meanings of all the words. The focus in on metalinguistic awareness of sounds and the letters that represent them.

Start with some of the following minimal pair words:

fin ミ fine      cod - code      sid ミ side      rid ミ ride      sit - site        rip - ripe

win ミ wine      not - note      bit - bite      hat - hate      fad - fade        mat - mate

Tim - time      pip - pipe      din - dine      tot - tote      dot - dote        nod - node

rot - rote         

Jupiter words:       thill - thile     chom - chome     quiff - quife
(Invite students to think of more word pairs.)

Provide enough experience playing games with Silent E words for students to be fully aware of this rule before going on to Extension. Extension:

  1. Teach that a "K" sound after a short vowel is spelled with "ck". Contrast that with the "K" before Silent E.
    block - bloke      luck - Luke         pick - pike          duck - duke    
    sack ミ sake        Jack - Jake         lack - lake          wack - wake    
    hick - hike        back ミ bake         lick -like           back - bake      
    pick - pike        Mick - Mike         rack -rake  
    Jupiter words:    zack - zake          thock - thoke        yack - yake    
    Vock-voke         shick - shike (or shyke)                  quock - quoke
  2. Teach that, after short vowels, a ch sound is often spelled -tch and a J sounds is often spelled -dge. Practice words for -tch:
    etch           hatch         hatchet          match          crutch          ditch     
    itch           kitchen       pitch            sketch         batch           catch  
    patch          snatch        watch            stretch        stitch          switch 
    witch          notch         fetch              
    Practice words for -dge:
    judge      judgement     misjudge     bridge       cartridge    porridge 
    ridge      dredge       hedge        pledge        wedge        sledge  
    badge      grudge       begrudge     trudge        fudge        hodgepodge 
    lodge      smudge       
  3. This is a good point in the programme to teach that an "A" usually sounds like "Short O" after a "W". Use minimal pairs to help students notice vowel sound differences with and without Silent E (eg., wad -wade Jupiter words: zam - zame, etc.)
Double Vowel Combinations "When two vowels go walking, the first does the talking."

long A:

               A before Silent E (Minimal pairs as above)

               ai  -  bait, wait, chain, rain, gain, main  Jupiter words:  shaib, chait,
                       thaig, quaim, etc.

               ay  - (The last sound in the word)  day, way, 
                      may, lay, stay, pay, etc.  Jupiter words:  zay, tay, vay, etc.)   

               eigh  - eight, weight, freight  (Infrequent) 

long E:

              ea - beach, tear, gear, rear, fear     Extension:  eager, eagle, clear, 
                       crease, grease, flea, plea,  reason, season, creature, feature, teacher

              Double E - beech, cheer, beer, cheek, cheese    Extension:  greed   
                        greedy, jeer, free, agree, knee, career, sleeve, cheese  
              ie -   "I before E except after C" usually holds true.
                        believe, retrieve, achieve, grieve, tier

              ei - receive, conceive

              Y - (At the end of multisyllabic words - often adjectives) happy, needy, 
                     crafty, greedy, ready,  speedy, 

long I:

I before Silent E (Minimal pairs as above) ie - die, lie, tie igh - sigh, thigh, might, right, fight, light Y - (In the middle or end of one-syllable words.) type, tyke, why, fry, guy, my, shy, rye, sky, buy, by, bye

long O:

             oa - toad, oak, oats, boat, goat, coat, soap, cloak, roar, boar, throat, cloak  

O - (At the end of words) go, no, potato, so (but not "do" or "to")

             ow - (At the end of words)   blow, row, grow, throw, tomorrow

O before Silent E (Minimal pairs as above)

     cope, hope, dope, mope, pope, rope, poke, core
     Extension:  bloke, broke, choke
     Jupiter words:  shoke, floke, thoke

oe - (At the end of a few words)

     toe, roe


Double O (Long O before R in just a few words: door, floor, etc.

                                 Contrast with the sound Double O makes in  book, took, 
                                  look, cook.  Then add the sound Double O makes in too,
                                  boot, hoot, root.)
              ough (At the end of a few words like "though".  Compare with 
                           "through", "bough", "rough", "ought")   

              augh (This is one of the several rounded vowel sounds that vary
                            the most among English dialect speakers.  Notice the ways
                           Australian and American speakers pronounce words like 
                           "caught".  Compare it with the way the same dialect users
                           pronounce "cot" and "coat".

long U:

              U before Silent E  (Minimal pairs as above)

              ui - (Infrequent)  juice, sluice 

Extension: Letter C: borrows a K or S sound

  1. When a word begins with a K sound, it is usually spelled with the letter K before E or I. Before all other vowels and consonants, it is usually spelled with a C. Comparison words for practice:
    K Words:                 C Words:
    key                      coy
    kit                      cot
    kite                     code
    kiss                     cuss
    keen                     cane
    kill                     cool
    keep                     cop
    kin                      can
    kipper                   copper
    kindle                   candle
    kindly                   cuddly
  2. When a word begins with an S sound, it is sometimes spelled with the letter C before E or I. Comparison words for practice:
    C Words:                   S Words:
    ceiling                    seal
    cease                      seat
    cell                       sell
    cellar                     seller
    cemetery                   seminary
    centimetre                 sensible
    century                    sensitive
    cereal                     serial
    ceremony                   service
    cinema                     sincere
    circle                     search
    citizen                    situation
    city                       silly
    civilise                   sincere
  3. Sometimes the J sound is spelled with a G ("soft G") before E, I or Y. Practice words:
    gem           gender          gene           genetics          generation          genius          
    gym           germ            giant          finger            giraffe             Gypsy 
    gentleman     gymnastics
    Comparison words for practice ("hard G" vs. J):
    gab - jab          gag - jag         gain - Jane            games - James       
    gay - jay          gear - jeer       get ミ jet              go-Joe            
    gig - jig          gob-job           giggle - jiggle        gangling-jangling
Diphthongs Diphthongs are two vowel sounds blended together. The two most common across English dialects are these:

                       ah-oo - house, plough, cow

                       oh-ee - boy, loyal, annoy

Diphthongs vary not only between English dialects, but with regional accents. Semivowels The two consonants that are, in fact, vowel combinations and therefore can take the place of vowels are:
                       ee-uh - "Y"

                       oo-uh - "W"

R coloured vowels Speech sounds in a sequence influence each other to varying degrees. Vowels followed by R are particularly shaped or "coloured" by the R. Most Australian English speakers neutralise the R after vowels and may also insert an R in some words.

Pronounce these words:   chawsh - chorsh  (The Australian vowel R is neutralised.) 

                          draw - drawing  (An R is inserted by many Australian  speakers.)

EFL students need clarification of where vowel R's do and do not occur in words. Teach them that vowel R sounds sound like these words:

                     are - car 

                     air - bear/bare

                     ear - clear

                     our - flower

                     ore - four/fore

                     err -  fur

Then ask them to describe any R sounds in the languages they speak. Talk about the way different English speaking countries pronounce vowel R sounds. Explain that, in some countries like Australia, a prolonged vowel usually indicates the R.

Note: It is openly acknowledged that all vowel sounds have not been discussed here. The intent is to limit focus to those sounds that will most benefit Australian students learning English as a second or foreign language.


Phonological awareness for EFL students
Level Five: Consonant blends or clusters

The S, R, and L sounds are typically among the last to be mastered by preschool-aged English-speaking children. These are also the most common sounds to be blended with one or more other consonants in English words.

Not only are consonant blends difficult to hear, but there are many more of them in English than in Australian Indigenous languages. As well, the positions of consonant clusters within words vary among languages.

To enhance metalinguistic awareness and generalisation of learning, it has been found efficient to start by teaching S blends in the initial position of words and to contrast them with beginning vowels and H sounds. Since few words in Australian Indigenous languages begin with vowels or H, this sound discrimination practice is very important.

As in Levels Three and Four, minimal pair words effectively get students to focus their attention on the critical sound comparisons being taught. Even if students have not yet learned the meanings of all the words, they should be able to sound out and spell them during classroom activities. As explained in previous levels, "Jupiter words" are pretend words that offer further practice and reinforce metalinguistic awareness of the phonics rules that have been taught.

Throughout this program, a turn-taking game format is highly recommended to hold students' attention and allow for some fun while making spelling easier.

Initial sp- blends

pace - space         pain - Spain          pan - span           par - spar          

pare ミ spare         park - spark          pat - spat           peak - speak     

patter - spatter     peck ミ speck          pent - spent         pike - spike     

pill - spill         pin - spin            pine ミ spine         pit - spit           

poke - spoke         putter - sputter        

Comparison with words that start with vowels and H:
ace - pace - space                hark - ark - park - spark              hit - it - pit - spit   

hat - at - pat - spat             hill - ill - pill - spill              in - pin - spin      

an - pan - span   

Jupiter words:  oosh - poosh - spoosh    ouge - pouge - spouge   
                           hoggie -oggie - poggie - spoggie, etc.

Extension for initial spl blends:
platter - splatter     lash - splash      lint - splint       lit - split  

Jupiter words:         lorch - splorch    lighty - splighty   luffow - spluffow, etc.

initial st- blends
tab - stab        table - stable        tack - stack         tag - stag        take - stake

tale - stale      tall - stall          amp - stamp          tar - star        talk - stalk                
teal - steal      tone - stone          team - steam         tool - stool      top - stop

Comparison with words that start with vowels and H:
hark - ark - stark         aid - staid             hairs - airs - stairs            hale - ale - stale        

hall - all - stall         hand - and - stand      hitch - itch - stitch

amp - stamp                ate - state             hart - art - start

Extension for initial str blends:
ray - tray - stray       rain - train - strain     rap - trap - strap     rip - trip - strip

ripe - tripe - stripe    roll - troll - stroll     rove - trove - strove  

ruck - truck - struck            

Jupiter words:  eff - reff - treff       oik - roik - troik     audew - raudew - traudew

note: The plan is to now shift to final consonant blends, again featuring those with S, since it is difficult to hear and not a phoneme typical of Aboriginal languages. If students develop metalinguistic awareness of consonant blends after vowels, it is believed that they will be more likely to notice other consonant blends at the ends of syllables and words. In this section, attention will be given to morphological markers for verb tense, possessives and plurals. Tongue Twisters are an enjoyable vehicle for this emphasis.


Minimal pairs for contrast:
bums - bumps     Cass - caps     graze - grapes    pies - pipes   trams - tramps

Practice words:
caps      champs     clumps     chops       grips       groups

gripes    helps      hops       lips        lumps       naps   

rips      shapes     tapes      shops       taps        wraps 

zips      capsize    upstairs   ships       whips       trips 

clips     chips     

Examples of Tongue Twisters:
The boy bumps grapes into his caps.

The groups capsize in shops upstairs.

He helps himself to chops and wraps and tapes them.

She rips the lumps and ships them in clumps.

It zips the chips and sends them on trips on ships.

-ts Minimal pairs for contrast:
Anne's ミ ants     R'sミarts            bees ミ beats      bells ミ belts       
buys ミ bites      bows ミ boats        cars ミ cart       cheese - cheats   
days ミ dates      dens ミ dents        ease - eats       flows - floats    
fries ミ frights   gaze ミ gates        guess ミ gets      goes ミ goats
grease - greets   haze ミ hates        has ミ hats        his - hits

hers ミ hurts      is ミ its            kiss ミ kits       lies - lights    
nose ミ notes      O's ミ oats          pains ミ paints    pass - pats    
prince ミ prints   quiz ミ quits        seas ミ seats      says - sets    
sighs ミ sights    shores ミ shorts     shoes ミ shoots    ways - waits
was - what's      whiz-wits  

Practice words:
ants          aunts        arts         bats        beats        belts 
bites         bits        boots         boats       carts         cats

cheats        coats        cots         cuts        dates         defeats

dents         dots         eats         fights      floats        frights

gates         gets         giants       goats       greets        hates

hats          hints        hits         hunts       hurts         its             

jets          kites        kits         let's       lets          lights

lots          mats         nets         nights      notes         nuts

oats          paints       parts        pats        pets          prints

quits         quotes       rats         repeats     rights        scouts

seats         sets         sights       shirts      shorts        shots

shoots        spirits      sweets       tarts       votes         waits

wants         weights      what's       wits        writes       

Examples of Tongue Twisters:
The scouts get the goats through the gates.

The spirits put tarts and other sweets on mats during the nights.

What's an animal that eats, hunts, bites and floats?

Let's wear shirts and shorts and sit on seats under the lights.

-ks and -X

Minimal pairs for contrast:Practice Words:
as - axe        bass - backs      bays - bakes        K's - cakes         cheese - cheeks

face - fakes    floss - flocks    whose - hooks       Joe's - jokes       kiss - kicks

lays - lakes    Lee's - leaks     lies - likes        loss - locks        May's - makes

Mars - marks    miss - mix        rays - rakes        sees - seeks        sneeze - sneaks

sauce - socks   spies - spikes    squeeze - squeaks   squaws - squawks

Practice Words:
axe        backs        bakes          books         box        bricks       cakes          

cheeks     clicks       clocks         cooks         cracks     desks        ducks

fakes      flakes       flocks         flux          fox        hawks        hikes

hoax       hex          hooks          jokes         kicks      lakes        leaks

licks      likes        locks          looks         makes      marks        mix

necks      parks        pecks          racks         rakes      rocks        sacks

seeks      shocks       shrieks        slacks        snacks     sneaks       socks

spooks     spokes       specks         speaks        spikes     squeaks      squawks

strikes    strokes      takes          tax           thanks     

Example Tongue Twisters:
He packed an axe in a box and put it on the backs of some hawks.

The hex marks were a hoax and turned into jokes.

What bird squeaks and squawks and sits on rocks?

-fs , - ughs, - phs

Minimal pairs for contrast:
bees - beefs    breeze - briefs    cuss - cuffs    grass - graphs    lass - laughs

O's - oafs      pus - puffs

Practice Words:
beefs         briefs        chefs          chiefs         cliffs         coughs          cuffs

giraffes      graphs        ifs            laughs         oafs           proofs          puffs

reefs         roofs         scuffs         scoffs         sniffs         tiffs           troughs

whiffs        woofs

Example Tongue Twisters:
He laughs at the chiefs and calls them oafs.

The bunyip coughs and sniffs and woofs as it glides over the cliffs and roofs.

-ns, - nse, - nce

Minimal pairs for contrast:
miss - mince    moss - months    Tess - tense    

Practice Words:
bounce        dense         dance           dunce           fence           mince

months        once          prince          rinse           ense            since

sentence      tense         whence          wince

Example Tongue Twisters:
The dunce can dance along the fence for months.

Let's sentence the prince to bounce and rinse, since he's dense.


Minimal pairs for contrast:
face - faiths    mouse - mouths    miss - myths    pass - paths    truce - truths

use - youths

Practice Words:
booths        breaths        broths        cloths         faiths        mouths        myths

paths         sheaths        sloths        truths         wreaths       youths

Example Tongue Twister:
After the youths brought the cloths to their mouths, they stopped telling truths.


Practice Words:

blasts      boasts      coasts      chests        crests      costs       feasts      fists      

ghosts      guests      hosts       hoists        heists      jests       lasts       lists

mists       nests       priests     pests         pastes      posts       quests      roasts

twists      tests       wastes      wrists 


Practice Words: bolts colts dolts hilts jolts kilts quilts stilts tilts wilts volts -nks Practice Words:

banks      broncs      bunks       blanks     blinks      chunks       clanks     clunks

cranks     chinks      clinks      drunks     drinks      dunks        flanks     flunks

franks     hunks       honks       inks       kinks       links        minks      monks

plunks     planks      pranks      ranks      rinks       sinks        slinks     shanks

shrinks    sphinx      stinks      skunks     spanks      thanks       thinks     winks 

-nts Practice Words:
blunts       bunts        chants        chintz      dents       fronts        flaunts       

grants       gents        grunts        haunts      hunts       hints          mints

prints       punts        plants        pants       squints     stints         slants

tints        taunts        


Practice Words:

asks        basks        casks        discs        flasks        frisks        masks        

risks       tasks        whisks


Practice Words:
disked        frisked        risked        whisked


Practice Words:
arts        blurts       courts        carts        charts       darts        flirts       forts

hurts       hearts       parts         ports        quarts       shirts       skirts       spurt

shorts      snorts       sorts         sports       smarts       starts       tarts        warts


Practice Words:
barks        clerks       corks        forks       harks       irks       jerks       lurks

larks        marks        parks        perks       quirks      storks     shirks      smirks

-S word endings signalling verbe tense, plurality and possession: -S as a plural marker (sounds like S after a voiceless sounds and Z after a voiced sound) Practice words with an S sound:
hats       ships        chips        kicks        lips        bits       sticks        utes

Practice words with a Z sound:
boys     girls      dogs        friends       balls        clubs              

-es as a plural marker

Practice words: (after -ss, -sh, -ch, -tch)
beaches        peaches        wishes        dishes        riches        ditches        busses                

-'S or - S ' as possessive markers

Practice words:

            Singular:             Plural:

             child's             children's

             mother's            mothers'

             witch's             witches'

             baby's              babies'

             boy's               boys'

-'S as a contraction Practice words:
he's        she's         what's       where's       how's        when's        why's          let's

Contrast "it's" with possessive "its" and "who's" with possessive "whose"


Phonological awareness for EFL students
Level Six: multisyllabic sequences

Pretend words:

Two-syllables, with accent on the first syllable:

(Discuss various acceptable spellings of pretend words.)

ipim          offub          empum           jafroo (-fru, frue, -frew)

rossing       yajet          shuppy          chogby           thrumpet

fribish       quentiss       shellog         prongly          stringstuff

flacker       crendoff       gumbadge        slitchstep       frankiss

velly         twinkit        plupping        dromny           ziffer

Three-syllables, with accent as indicated:

(Discuss how changing the most accented syllable would change the pronunciation. Comment that this varies between English language dialects, eg, Australian compared to American.)
wickeroo" (-ew)        vez'fambit             thonkey"wig (-kee, -kea)

twazbrill"ig           stitch'ington          blick'ingly     

trum'peril             orchum'pick            inquait'ing (-quate, -queight)

ceap'ishness (cei-, see-, etc.)               see'mango (sea-, -goe, -gow)

mighnes'sity (mie-, my-)                      flu'sidate (flue-, flui-)

Words ending with ミable or ミible:

(Many words made of nouns or verbs with ミable are being invented or "coined". Students may like to make up some new ones.) Practice Words:


syllable       lovable      bendable         washable      available      huggable

returnable     drinkable    pliable          likeable      recyclable     readable

reliable       valuable     expendable       walkable      pliable        drivable

dependable     kissable     regrettable      washable      laughable      drycleanable

memorable      rideable     remarkable       climbable     forgettable    playable

traceable      lockable     (and so onケ..)


sensible      implausible     eligible     fallible          incredible     edible

plausible     inedible        legible          (Add others as students notice them.)

words ending with ミle:


compile     crocodile     exile          file          mile          juvenile

pile        rile          senile         smile         textile       tile      vile

Nile        while          


able          bubble        bumble       fable          gobble       table

grumble       marble        nibble       resemble       rumble       trouble

scramble      stumble       terrible     thimble        tremble      vegetable

-cle or ミkle or ミckle

bicycle      chuckle      circle        crackle     sparkle     speckle

twinkle      uncle        buckle        knuckle     freckle     tickle

sprinkle     wrinkle

- dle

 addle       bridle          bundle          candle        cuddle          fiddle
 griddle     handle          middle          meddle        needle          paddle
 puddle      riddle          saddle          waddle        muddle

- fle

baffle          waffle          duffle          trifle          whiffle          sniffle

snuffle         truffle     


dangle          mingle          single          singlet          tingle          wiggle

wrangle     wriggle     


apple          dapple          maple          people          principle     ripple

sample     simple


beetle          bottle          cattle          gentle          kettle          little

nettle          rattle          settle          turtle     


zealous        jealous       callous       glamorous     incredulous

curious        spurious      furious       generous      hilarious

imperious      religious     serious       delirious     injurious

contagious     outrageous    courageous    nefarious


attention     salvation     station          invitation     imagination

imitation     lotion        notion           commotion      rotation

motion        emotion       election         plantation     location

ration        nation        negotiation      celebration    implication

interrogation               individualisation               improvisation



(Discuss that in other English dialects, particularly American, a "z" is now used in place of the "s" in many words.)
wise               advise             advertise          immunise                    

socialise          realise            tantalise          vocalise          improvise

conceptualise      materialise        fantasise          infantilise


relate          communicate          negotiate         salivate

implicate       placate              invigorate        evaluate

infuriate       ingratiate           alienate          magistrate

infiltrate      vibrate              fluctuate          

(It is openly acknowledged that this is not a complete index of English language spelling conventions.)