There are many programs on the market intended to help a teacher accomplish the valuable task of teaching a child to read fluently. There is, however, no program with the unique characteristics of Phondot.

Most authorities believe that children in English speaking countries require a year longer to learn to read than children in countries like Italy and Spain. The reason for this is almost certainly the fact that letters and digraphs in English text often have more than one sound. The champion is probably 'ea' which can be found in words like: health, heart, beard, break, meal, heard, ocean, create, idea. 'ou' is another digraph with a disturbing number of sounds: soul, soup, touch, ought, out, could, famous. 'oo' can be found in brooch, moon, flood, wood, door. A child must learn not only the possible sounds represented by the letters and digraphs but how the sound is modified by adjacent letters and even adjacent words. We wipe a 'tear' from our eyes, but we gaze sadly at a 'tear' in our clothing.

At least one full year could be removed from the school schedules if English letters and digraphs had but one sound. No thousands of irregularly spelled 'sight' words to be learned. No long list of ground rules to be memorized.

One approach to taking care of this bad situation is that of simply respelling the English language in order to provide one sound per letter or digraph . There are many candidates, but at this time none appear to be causing any interest in the governments which would have to be involved in any endeavor as comprehensive and challenging as total or even partial respell.

Another approach is that of indicating in some printable way just how a certain letter should be pronounced without requiring that a word be respelled. For instance a letter might be marked with a diacritic or a number to indicate that it should be sounded in a particular way, or the letter might be colored, or made larger or smaller, or shaded, or italic, or underlined, or over lined, (with arcs or bars) or bold, or faint, or capitalized, or lower case. All of these methods (even in combination) have been tried and many are still in use. They are all complicated by the fact that a single letter or digraph can represent so many different sounds. But there is one advantage to these pronunciation indication schemes which is very tempting: when the applied marking scheme is removed the child is looking at the traditional spelling he must contend with in today's world.


The Phondot marking system is different from any of those described above. As far as is known it is unique. A thorough search through the literature came up with no equivalents.

A problem with all traditional diacritic systems is that the same diacritic or marking must indicate different sounds according to the letter with which it is associated. A reader must see the letter and then note the particular associated diacritic (acute, grave, tilde, dieresis, macron, etc.) in order to determine the sound represented by the combination. This certainly can be done but tends, in my opinion, to be confusing where a single letter requires the use of several different diacritics. It is somewhat daunting to contemplate the fact that both 'o' and 'u' have seven sounds, and 'a', 'e', and 'i' have six in a basic English vocabulary.

The Phondot system indicates the pronunciation of a particular letter (or digraph) by MARKING THE LETTER ITSELF in a perceptible but unobtrusive manner. The applied marking creates a distinct new graphic character, but one in which the original letter is still apparent.


The exact size or shape of a particular mark used to indicate the sound of a letter is not important. It is its position on the letter that is significant.

Figure 1 illustrates the principle of the Phondot marking system with reference to the letter 'a', which can represent the different sounds found in: cat (no mark), ape, calm, any, talk, and abut. A mark at the top of the letter indicates the sound in 'ape'. A mark at the 3:00 o'clock position indicates the sound in 'calm'. A mark at the bottom of the letter indicates the sound in 'said' and 'any', and a mark at the 9:00 o'clock position indicates the sound in 'law'.

Figure 1

Figure 2 illustrates the principle of the positional marking system with reference to the letter 'o'. The marking can be used to indicate the sounds found in: pot (no mark), code, lose, done, wolf, and moth.

Figure 2

Phondot has one convention which applies uniformly to all vowel letters. Letters shown with a mark on the top or top-right of the letter indicate that the letter has the long-vowel sound as in: mate, Pete, pine, code, clue.

The positional significance of the marks on the letters makes possible mnemonic practices which are useful in remembering the represented sound. For instance, in regards to the letter 'o' it is rather simple to remember that with a mark at the top it is the long vowel sound. more ---- money gives the sounds of the marks on the left or right of the letter, cook ---- food on the diagonal from lower left to upper right is easily remembered as the sounds associated with marks on those positions.

Two marks are used on the same letter in the case of the letter 'u' when the indicated sound is preceded by the 'y' sound as in 'cute'. The letter 'u' then can indicate the sounds in: cup (no mark), clue, put, cute, and cure. Cute and cure would have an additional mark at the bottom of the 'u' to indicate the preceding 'y' sound. A dot in the center of the 'u' indicates the sound of the letter in words like 'liquid' and 'squid' where the 'u' has the sound of the 'w' in 'went'.


Letters which should be ignored in the reading of a word are equipped with a thin slash mark through the lower part of the letter. For instance in the word 'debt' the 'b' has a slash mark through it.

A letter which has the 'schwa' sound, the sound we hear in the first syllable of 'abut', has a thin erasure line through the lower part of the letter. Any vowel letter may be shown with the schwa indication. A vowel letter which precedes a 'r' in an unaccented syllable is shown with the schwa marking. see figure 3

Figure 3

In a multi-syllable word the first syllable is assumed to be stressed unless another syllable is equipped with a small mark in the upper left corner of the first letter of the syllable or its vowel letter.

The Phondot system makes normal use of both upper and lower case letters. Either can be appropriately marked to indicate sound.


The usual sounds of the consonants and consonant digraphs are used in Phondot. Accepted diagraphs are: ch as in chip, sh as in ship, ph as in phone, wh as in when, ck as in lock.

Unmarked g and d have the sounds in gag and dad. The letter 'q' is treated as the sound in 'liquor'. The letter 'x' indicates the sound of 'ks' unless it is the first letter in a word, in which case it is pronounced as 'z'.

The Phondot marking system applies not only to the vowels but those consonants which as single letters have more than one sound. The system is capable of indicating the sounds of 'c' in cat (no mark), cent, cello, and ocean. 's' may be marked to show the sounds in sit (no mark), reason, pleasure, and sure. A 'd' with an internal dot indicates the sound in 'gradual'. A 'g' with an internal mark indicates the sound of the 'g's in 'George'. A marked 'n' indicates the sound of the 'n' in 'hangar'.

A marked 'h' indicates that the digraph 'th' has the sound in 'then'. In the case of the digraph 'gh' the marked 'h' indicates the sound in 'tough'.

The letter 't' may be marked to indicate the sounds in: tap (no mark), question, and nation.

see figure 4

Figure 4

The complete Phondot encoding scheme is presented in figure 5

Figure 5


It should be noted that the descriptive information given above does not pertain to the way the child would learn the marking system. A child would learn the system through association with lists of simple words he is very likely to know. He would learn to write by copying the words in these fully marked lists, but the words the child writes would be in standard spelling, no marks on the letters. The child would therefore, in the course of learning to write, be introduced to both standard spelling and Phondot marking.

At the chalkboard a teacher could easily mark a word which she is presenting to the class. She needs only to supply the required markings in some visible fashion. dots, lines, little circles, velcro, etc. at the appropriate spot on the letters.

The Phondot Primer

The Phondot primer is intended to furnish all the material required for the teaching of reading to a proficient level. The Primer begins with a section on the alphabet and the principle sounds of its letters. Page by page the Primer goes through the sounds of the alphabet using hundreds of simple single syllable words which a child is very likely to know. The progression is through: first the short vowel sounds, then the long vowel sounds, then the words with aw, followed by the words with the sound of the 'u' in 'put', and finally the words with the ou and oi sounds. The marked consonants are also taught through association with the simple words used to teach basic reading.

There are thousands of words in lists of words, phrases, and sentences. A fairly large section of consonantal combinations is provided. Towards the end of the book words are shown in both marked and unmarked versions.

The latter part of the Phondot Primer is intended for the teacher and consists of sufficient material to learn the phonics structure of English text.

The 165 page Primer based on the Phondot code is available in pdf format at:  (material for use in teaching reading)  (intended primarily for the teacher)  (Index pages for both parts of the Phondot Primer)


The above documents are also available in .doc format: one.doc two.doc three.doc


To view the .doc documents a user must install the eight true-type AROBASE fonts which are available at:

Installation of the AROBASE fonts is described on install.htm

It should be noted that the eight AROBASE fonts occupy very little computer memory space. They have been reduced to just the necessary letters for their purpose.

If the AROBASE fonts have been installed in a teacher's computer she may for special purposes produce her own Phondot marked text, though this activity is not a suggested part of the Primer. In the case of 'Word for Windows' the AROBASE fonts may be dragged from a list of fonts into the upper tool bar, where they are very easily accessed for manual marking of English text. Manual marking can be done at a rate of about five words per minute but with the availability of the Phondot Converter there is no necessity for more than a minimum marking for special purposes.


The Phondot converter allows any text file which is in the .htm or .txt format to be converted automatically to Phondot encoded text and made available for saving as a download. (The converter also provides for text entry by typing). A teacher could convert all of her teaching material and programs to a form where letters and digraphs have but one sound. Most people would agree that this would make the teaching of reading a far simpler and more efficient task.

Another purpose of Phondot is to allow the writing of childrens's stories and other material at a level which matches their vocabulary, not how many pronunciation rules and 'sight' words they have memorized.  Phondot text is all 'decodable' when the marking system has been learned.

Comments on this work are welcome.  Further information will be supplied where time allows.

Robert Boden