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Letter names are stressed in informal and formal literacy instruction with young children in the US, whereas letters sounds are stressed in England. We examined the impact of these differences on English children of about 5 and 6 years of age (in reception year and Year 1, respectively) and US 6 year olds (in kindergarten). Children in both countries spelled short vowels, as in bag, more accurately than long vowels, as in gate. The superiority for short vowels was larger for children from England, consistent with the instructional emphasis on letter sounds. Errors such as gat for words with long vowels such as gate were more common among US children, reflecting these children's use of vowels' names as a guide to spelling. The English children's performance on a letter knowledge task was influenced by the fact that they are often taught letter sounds with reference to lowercase letters and letter names with reference to uppercase letters, and their spellings showed some effects of this practice. Although emphasis on letter sounds as opposed to letter names influences children's patterns of performance and types of errors, it does not make the difficult English writing system markedly easier to master.

Original publication




Journal article


Read Writ

Publication Date





473 - 487


letter knowledge, letter names, letter sounds, literacy instruction, spelling, vowels