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The Story of ITA 
The Initial Teaching Alphabet

"Once upon a time"-that wonderful beginning should take you back through the years to when your father read you bedtime stories. You probably remember the magic, if not the stories themselves. The wonderful world of adventure would soon open up to you when you learned to read. You just knew it!

The desire was strong, stories were available, but you soon discovered the obstacles in your path were enormous. Nevertheless, you learned to read; some children never become proficient readers or enjoy reading.

Presently available statistics indicate that in the 25-year-old or older group, there are 8-million people with four years or less of schooling and there are 30.5 million with five to eight years of education. These are the dropouts; these are the technically unemployable.

With our present high standard of living, the highest in the world today, can we, as Americans, afford to have 38 million Americans unable to understand even the rudimentary concepts of the technological forces which demand our attention? So much in this world depends on the ability to read well!

Why is it so difficult to learn to read?
First of all, when you learn to read, you are really leaning to break a code-a code in which the letters of the alphabet stand for sounds which make words we know.
As a for-instance, take this sentence: "Hvv gsv qvg kozmv ozmw."
Looks a little tough, doesn't it? Well, so does our traditional alphabet to a beginner-reader.
The key to this code is the alphabet backwards, Z equals A, and so on. One would think once we established the fact that G stands for the "T" sound, we could read: but look at the problems we run into. The sentence, as you have probably figured out by now, is: "See the jet plane land." The "e" sound is pronounced differently in three places and is silent in a fourth place, and certainly the "t" sound in the "the" is not the same as the "t" sound in "jet."

Just to confuse things further, imagine the child's dismay at having learned that the R in Run can also look like r in run, so that the child is learning at least two alphabets (most capital letters are not shaped like their lower case counterparts: b B, d D, e E, I L, etc.). So if we take the 26 letters of the English alphabet with caps and lower case and script, you will begin to see the problems you had as a child.

The major problem for the beginner, however, lies in the fact that, even with this immense de- sire to learn, he still has only 26 letters which have to somehow represent the 40 or more sounds, the phonemes of English.
Thus the vowel sound in pie may be spelled many ways. If a first-grader knows how to spell pie and is then asked to spell buy, sigh, aisle, island, kite, he's being perfectly logical if he writes bie, sie, iel, ieland, kiet.
If he learns that "read" (I can read) is spelled the same as "read" (I have read), when he meets "near" which way should he go from "here"?

You should by now be beginning to wonder how you ever learned to read! And you can see that the first-grader might well distrust his abilities and have to rely on his teacher for the answers. Logic will get him nowhere.
That tremendous beginning desire has now, due to frustration, begun to sour. In many cases the child has had enough to turn him against reading, writing, schools, teacher, and himself.

Need for a Beginner's Alphabet
Sir James Pitman has devised a teaching tool called the Initial Teaching Alphabet (iltla) that makes it easier for our children to read our traditional alphabet once they have mastered iltla.
The Initial Teaching Alphabet has 44 symbols instead of the conventional 26; each of the 44 symbols represents one and only one sound. The alphabet is basically phonemic rather than strictly phonetic. Twenty-four of the 44 symbols are the traditional ones; 14 of the augmentations look very much like two familiar letters joined together. (These are taught to children as individual characters just as we all have been taught to accept w as a separate letter instead of as two v's joined.) The other special symbols represent the remaining phonemes.

The result is that whenever a child sees a symbol it is read in its own meaningful way. In our conventional alphabet, 2,000 or more visual patterns are used for the forty-odd sounds of English speech. These 2,000 visual patterns are reduced to only 88 in the Initial Teaching Alpha- bet. For example, the 22 separate ways of spelling the sound "I ... .. eye," etc. are represented by only one iltla symbol. Therefore, once these 44 symbols are associated with their respective sounds, any word can be read by the child. With this consistent Initial Teaching Alphabet, a child's earliest experience with school demonstrates to him that his reason can be counted on in this basic leaning situation - that once he learns a fact, he can apply it successfully.

As for the problem of capital letters - which introduce a number of new visual patterns in our traditional system - it doesn't exist. In iltla, a larger version of a letter becomes its capital. Within the design of the letter and its use as a consistent symbol are built other special considerations which reduce the differences between the appearance of words in the Initial Teaching Alphabet and in the conventional alphabet.

 iltla Copyright 1965 Initial Teaching Alphabet Publications. Inc.


from Omniglot:


Pitman Initial Teaching Alphabet (i.t.a.)

The Pitman Initial Teaching Alphabet (i.t.a.) was invented by Sir James Pitman, grandson of the inventor of Pitman shorthand. It was first used in a number of British school in 1961 and soon spread to the USA and Australia.

It is designed to make it easier for English speaking children to learn to read English. The idea is that children first learn to read using the i.t.a. then are introduced to standard English orthography at the age of seven. Opinions vary on the efficacy of the i.t.a. and it never became a mainstream teaching tool.

The main problems of using the i.t.a. include the fact that it is based on Received Pronunciation, so people with other accents find it difficult to decipher; the lack in material written, and the transition to the traditional orthography, which some children found difficult.

Notable features

  • The i.t.a. consists of 42 letters, 24 standard lowercase Latin letters plus a number of special letters, most of which are modified Latin letters.

  • Each letter represents to a single phoneme.

  • Some of the phonemes represented by digraphs in the traditional orthography are represented by ligatures in the i.t.a.

Pitman i.t.a.

Pitman i.t.a.

Additional  Links to  ita Sites
I.T.A. Foundation - an organisation which promotes the use of the i.t.a.

i.t.a. - the advantages and disadvantages of the Initial Teaching Alphabet

BBC News article on the i.t.a.

Other alternative writing systems:

also check out...

i.t.a. Literacy Clinic at Saint Mary's University

Stonebridge Elementary School
(Colony 1, Language Arts)





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