Children use vowels to help them spell consonants

Heather Hayes, Rebecca Treiman, Brett Kessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


English spelling is highly inconsistent in terms of simple sound-to-spelling correspondences but is more consistent when context is taken into account. For example, the choice between ch and tch is determined by the preceding vowel (coach, roach vs. catch, hatch). We investigated children's sensitivity to vowel context when spelling consonants in monosyllabic nonwords. Second graders (7-year-olds) tended to use vowel context correctly when spelling word-final consonants (codas). This use of context was progressively stronger for third and fifth graders as well as for college students. The increase is not due to differences in vocabulary because the contextual patterns are similar in reading materials targeted at all four age groups. Vowel letters (graphotactics) had a stronger influence than did vowel pronunciation. Children also used vowel context when spelling word-initial consonants (onsets); this effect was as strong for second graders as for adults. Thus, novice spellers take advantage of graphotactic information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2006


  • Codas
  • Context
  • Graphotactic patterns
  • Onsets
  • Spelling development


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