Does the Order of the Alphabet Make it Harder to Learn to Read?

Edward Wong The Educational Parenting Blog Leave a Comment

The surprising issue with the order of letters in the English alphabet and how you can easily overcome it as an educational parent

When teaching your child the alphabet, starting with the letter A and going letter by letter until you get to Z just makes sense, right?

Actually, while the sound for A is easier for kids than the sound for Z, the letters in between them aren’t in a very useful order for kids who are learning to read.

Most of us first learn the letters of the English alphabet through song, and then through printed materials like alphabet posters that present the letters in alphabetical order.

The order of the letters in the alphabet is so familiar that most of us never question why they were arranged that way in the first place.

Why does A come before B?

The truth is, the ABCs are only in that familiar order because they were adapted from the alphabets of earlier languages, like Latin and Greek, that came before English.

As those alphabets evolved and changed over time—moving around the world and becoming new languages—new letters appeared.

Sometimes these letters were created to reflect a new sound that appeared in a language, and it would be placed next to another letter that sounded similar.

Sometimes the new letter was borrowed from a different language, and so people simply stuck it to the end of the existing alphabet.

But the overall order didn’t actually change very much. If we could go back in time to meet the people who used the very first writing system that eventually became English, we might find that they had a very good reason for that original order.

Today, nobody is sure exactly what that reason was. It may have it had something to do with the sounds of the letters, but those letters would have sounded very different than today’s English letters, and nobody has ever systematically rearranged the letters of English into an order that reflects the sounds they now make.

That’s how we ended up with an alphabet that is not organized in terms of difficulty. The sound made by the letter T, for example, is far easier for kids to pronounce than the sound for R even though R comes first.

What does this mean for parents like you who are teaching their children to read?

It means that alphabetical order might be a bad order to use for introducing letters to your child.

Luckily, all you have to do to make sure this issue doesn’t hold your child back is to worry less about whether they know how to recite the alphabet.

Do I need to change how I teach my child their ABCs?

You don’t have to stop singing the alphabet song to your kids. They will need to know their ABCs eventually.

But when you are teaching your child the letters of the alphabet, make sure they know the sound that each letter makes, and not just its name.

If you come to a letter whose sound your child has trouble saying, feel free to skip it and come back later. The truth is, the order of the alphabet just isn’t that important at this stage of your child’s learning, so the order in which they master the letters doesn’t matter.

Finally, if you do want to teach your child the order of the ABCs but they struggle to remember what letter comes next, don’t worry! Knowing the sound that “T” makes matters more than knowing that it comes after “S”.

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About the Author

Edward Wong

Edward Wong is a primary tutor and the Senior Designer at English Cosmos. He teaches children how to read, coaches parents on education in the home, and has been passionate about reading education since 2019. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Juris Doctor degree and qualified as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA).

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