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Why Knowing the 44 Sounds of English is so Critical to English Literacy

By R. Kali Woodward

A Shallow Dive into The Neuroscience of Phonemic Awareness

Written language was invented approximately 5,500 years ago in Mesopotamia, and initially, it was composed of pictorial symbols. Still, it quickly evolved to incorporate phonetic symbols representing the spoken sounds of the ancient languages it represented. 

The evolution of written code in the middle east rapidly trended towards phonetic encoding of speech. By the 11th century B.C., the Phoenician Alphabet was codified and became the probable ancestor of the Greek alphabet and, hence, of all Western alphabets. 

The neuroscience of speaking and reading are intricately intertwined. As children, we first develop spoken language skills by listening to our parents and siblings and those around us, and then by imitating the articulation of the sounds we hear. One recent study conducted by neuroscientists at the Institute for Systems Research (ISR) and University of Maryland School of Medicine found that when the brain engages in speech perception, the brain’s auditory cortex analyzes complex acoustic patterns to detect words that carry a linguistic message. 

At the heart of all linguistic patterns lies the complete set of phonemes unique to each spoken language on the planet. English, by many accounts, consists of 44 such phonemes. Each of these phonemes is acquired by our brains during our early stages of development.

By about the age of 3 years, we begin to myelinate the neural networks associated with each phoneme, laying down a fatty outer sheath that wraps around the neurons (the dendrites and axons) involved in the transmission of speech sounds into, and out from, our brain’s language centers. The average onset of myelination, and the acquisition and “steady increase in white matter in the left arcuate fasciculus (connecting frontal/temporal speech-related regions), is presumed to reflect the childhood development of left-hemisphere specialization for speech circuits.”  In short, the brain creates neural circuitry for each phoneme of a child’s native language.

A Case for a Diacritic Approach to Learning How to Read English

In the 10th century A.D., the Muslim clerics of Spain had a problem. Just as the Phoenician Alphabet had spread north to Greece and Rome, the alphabet had also spread east and west to Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran. And while the Greeks, and subsequently the Romans, had made modifications to accommodate their unique phonemes, including their vowel sounds, the Arabs, Hebrews, and Persians had not. The original Phoenician code (and its close derivatives) is what is known as an “abjad,” meaning an accounting of the consonants (and some long vowels) only.

Short vowel sounds were implied, which meant that the sounding of words was, and still is, much more dependent on contextual clues, as similar consonant strings can be pronounced differently where there are differing meanings. This also meant that proper names, such as those found in the Koran and other holy scriptures, were difficult to pronounce, where the code itself provided little guidance. One could almost say that the code was “missing information,” or that the sounds were “hidden.”  

Long story short, the Arabic language started adding diacritics (small symbols that go above and below words) around 900 A.D., with the Hebrew language following suit around 1000 A.D. Suddenly, written language became accessible to most people, regardless of socio-economic standing, because the exact pronunciation of each word was finally fully revealed.

In 2003, a former U.S. Army translator, trained in Arabic, and having a son who was struggling to learn how to read, asked the question: “How is my child supposed to know that the “ea” in the word “read” sounds different from the “ea” in the word “bread?” And further, “What if I just show him what the sounds are using a diacritic symbol, the way the Arabic and Hebrew languages do?”

Is It Possible to Learn How to Read in Just 12 Hours using the Diacritic Method as Applied to English?

This simple insight and application of the Diacritic method to English, methodically and comprehensively, led to that former Army translator’s son learning how to read in just six weeks, and to a patent on a diacritic decoding system for the English language that took nine years to get approved. Ultimately, this then led to a proven, diacritic decoding curriculum, now in the form of a smartphone app, that takes just 12 hours to teach any “reading-ready” child how to read, with virtually no teaching required from an adult.

FUNetix® is a unique Reading App that starts by teaching children all 44 unique sounds of the English language. When children focus on their speech, they become phonemically aware.  The next natural progression in the reading learning equation is associating each sound of the language with a written symbol. As part of the learning process, the FUNetix curriculum names each symbol so that teachers can refer to it in context as they teach, and students can refer to each symbol as they learn.  

The app-based reading curriculum is unique because it makes children aware of all 44 sounds, associates each sound with a unique symbol, and names each sound for easy reference. With the naming of all 44 sounds, and with the provision of a pictorial representation for sounds not already included in the alphabet, the developing “reading brain” can more easily create a triangulated neural network around each phoneme of English for later recall and manipulation in the reading process.

FUNetix goes on to apply the “Diacritic method” to English (used similarly by the ancient Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and Farsi writing systems) by placing pronunciation-revealing diacritic marks above words, as needed, to reveal all of the hidden sounds in the English orthography, i.e., to SHOW children the hidden sounds in EVERY English word.

 It Possible to Learn How to Read in Just 12 Hours using the Diacritic Method as Applied to English?

The FUNetix reading curriculum also uses a phonetic English training code called Kindercode™ (or, 21E®) to teach children the basic concepts of blending and segmentation, building their confidence before they transition to English with diacritics. In this way, children have sufficient time to master all 44 phonemes and associate them with a letter or pictogram, before embarking upon the quest to master the quasi-phonetic code we’ve all become accustomed to.


Due to spoken language differences that needed to be addressed, many writing systems slowly crept away from the Roman alphabet they started with. English drifted farther than most, but not as far as some. Because the English language is now the default language for many global transactions and interactions, the problem inherent in the code is magnified by orders of magnitude, as it leaves millions, if not billions, of global citizens behind. Learning to read English without knowing where the hidden sounds are, can be an impossible “ask,” even for children born in English-speaking countries.  

A new day has dawned for the unlocking of the written English code. The solution to America’s literacy crisis and the English language learning crisis worldwide may be 1,000 years too late. Still, it is far from too little. The free, patented, FUNetix, diacritic English decoding method will usher in a new age of education equality in the United States and a multitude of countries around the world. As applied to English, the diacritic method removes the “sound barrier” and allows children to learn how to decode written speech within hours instead of months or years.

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