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When Two Vowels Go Walking

Catchy rhymes can be a fun and easy way to remember some of those pesky phonics rules. Have you heard of this one?

When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.

It’s a cute rhyme that’s easily remembered, and most teachers simply take it for granted that it is true, especially if their phonics program includes the rule as fact. And for the sake of convenience, it would be wonderful if this rule were true—teaching reading and spelling would be much simpler. But this “rule” is actually false 60% of the time.


When Two Vowels Go Walking . . . Not!

Red 'myth' stamp

To test the rule, I took the 1,000 most common words and analyzed them by applying the rule to each one. I discovered that, contrary to the rule’s claim, only 43% of the words actually followed the rule, and a stunning 57% of the words did not! When I analyzed the top 2,000 words, the percentage shifted even further—only 36% of the words followed the rule, and 64% did not. So much for this oft-repeated phrase!

This is not to say that the rule is entirely invalid. There are many cases in which two vowels “go walking,” including ai, au, ea, ee, ei, ie, oa, eo, oi, oo, ou, and ui. And when a pair of vowels appears in a word, it is often the first vowel that “does that talking,” as represented in words like green, sea, hair, coat, clean, rain, and peach.

However—and this is the important part—these same vowel teams also exist in many words that don’t follow the “when two vowels go walking” rule, including good, about, earth, bear, noise, author, and friend.

Instead of relying on the incorrect guidance of this (fake) rule, teach your students the sounds of the letter combinations (called phonograms). Your student will learn important and fundamental concepts, such as ai says /ā/, au says /aw/, oa says /ō/, and oi says /oy/. This knowledge will give your students some real tools to work with—and there will be nothing to unlearn later!

Vowels A and I walking on a bridge

Were you ever taught that “when two vowels go walking, the first does the talking?”


Free Spelling Rules Posters

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Barbara

says:

Interesting info!

Lisa

says:

I have volunteered to be a reading tutor for an adult. Having great tips on reading and spelling would be so appreciated and useful, I think.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lisa,
If you have specific questions or need anything, we’re happy to help! Just ask.

Brett Hickman

says:

when playing the letter combos from the graph, the speaker will say o, two letters o, what does he mean by saying two letters?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Brett.

The phonogram OA and the phonogram OE both have just one sound, the long O /ō/ sound. Our programs teach children to say OA says “/ō/ – two letter /ō/ that we may not use at the end of English words” and OE says “/ō/ – two letter /ō/ that we may use at the end of English words”. This distinguishes between the two phonograms that have the same sound.

In short, the “two letter /ō/” part is not part of the sounds, but part of how the phonogram is written.

Jesse Rebekah Robinson

says:

Thank you for sharing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jesse.

Sarah C

says:

So good! I have 4 kids, 3 went to public school for kindergarten/1st grade. Only 1 of them was taught phonograms in school. He has such a better sense of words than my older two, it’s crazy words he can figure out. When we decided to homeschool my youngest was starting kindergarten and I knew I had to find the same approach. Now we’re finishing up AAR3 and I can’t believe how simple and fun and successful it’s been!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing your observations on what a difference phonogram knowledge can make to children, Sarah! I’m pleased to hear your youngest is doing so well with All About Reading!

Anita

says:

Thank you this is Nice

Raquel Cook

says:

I have a kindergarten boy who has a short attention span but he loves technology! Sometimes he likes the cute rhyming songs and sometimes he’s “too big” for those. Any suggestions?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Raquel,
We don’t really have rhymes for reading and spelling rules, but we do have some cute posters! Check them out and see if your boy will like them. Spelling Rules Posters.

Robian Rose

says:

This is so good. Another reason to leave public school

Susan

says:

Very helpful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Susan!

Dawn

says:

Great tips!

Laura

says:

This!!! So true! No wonder we still get confused on spelling certain words and have to think of special songs or rhymes we came up with to remember the correct spelling of particular words.

Nikki

says:

Or I before e, except after c. Quite a few words that one doesn’t apply to, either (weight for example).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nikki,
Yes, this rule as it is usually taught is not reliable. However, All About Spelling limits the rule to only the sound of long E. “When the sound is /ē/, it is I before E except after C.” When you exclude all other sounds (long A, short E, etc.), the rule is very reliable with only 10 common exceptions (and either is one of them). AAS teaches these exceptions in two silly sentences that make them easy to remember.

Laura

says:

This is a good thread.
The full rhyme is
“I before e, except after c
or when sounded as a
as in neighbor
or
weigh.”

My student love to show off that they can spell ceiling, and neighbor and weigh.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Laura.

However, All About Spelling teaches this rule differently to minimize the number of exceptions. In All About Spelling, the rule applies only to the sound of long E and the phonograms EI and IE, so AAS teaches the rule as, “When the sound is /ē/, it is I before E except after C.”

Words like neighbor and weigh use the phonogram EIGH, which only says the long A /ā/ sound. There is no phonogram IEGH, so there is no confusion with the EIGH phonogram.

Melanie Nygaard

says:

I have heard both “either” and “neither” pronounced by some with a long i sound, so that’s how I’m teaching my kids to “pronounce for spelling.” Then they aren’t exceptions.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting idea, Melanie! Thank you for sharing it.

Pamela

says:

Thank you!

Holli W.

says:

Oh yes, I remember learning this rhyme as a student! This makes so much more sense! Thank you for your helpful teaching tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Holli! I’m glad this makes more sense to you.

YANET

says:

I had noticed that already. Thanks for clarifying it! Great advise!

Lehrer

says:

“Advice” is correct here. “Advise” is pronounced “advize” and is a verb.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Yanet.

Jana Waiser

says:

Personal names with certain nationalities may pronounce differently. Our name is from German decent, Waiser, but we pronounce the second vowel, “i” as with my maiden name. I had the “ie” after the first consonant and we pronounced the “e”. I’ve been told it’s a German thing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Jana. Yes, we have to remember that words from other languages will follow other rules. (I have been told that it is a fairly reliable rule in German that when there are two vowels together the first is silent and the second is long.)

But names! Name can break every rule and pattern. Not only do people happily come up with new and unique spellings for the names of their children, but traditional spellings are often odd as well. Why does Thomas have an H? Shouldn’t Robin have a double B to protect that short O? Why does Anne have a silent e (some of the time)? Sigh.

Faith Whitley

says:

I have used this rhyme many times. I was surprised how often it is wrong, and I am glad I read this post. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Faith.

Sylvia

says:

Yes, and I’ve been guilty of teaching it along with experiencing frustration when it isn’t helpful. I’m so glad to know this alternative now. Thank you!! 🤯

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this alternative will be helpful, Sylvia! You’re welcome.

Sara Matthews

says:

Good resource!

Amanda B

says:

Thanks for the great tips!

Mabel

says:

Thanks a lot for this

Jennifer

says:

Love the phonogram tip. I can’t wait to see more blogposts like this one!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad you like it, Jennifer. If you aren’t already, you may consider signing up for our weekly email newsletter so you never miss a blog post!

Sarah Layne

says:

Wonderful explanation. Thank you for the resource!

Kristina A.

says:

This is so true! Just when you think your emerging reader has their long vowel words down…the English language throw a curveball!

Lena M

says:

Great explanation!

Miriam N

says:

We love this!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Miriam!

Bonnie

says:

Love your work!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Bonnie!

April Stultz

says:

This is so true! I have learned to only say “two vowels go walking” when it is actually true. In other cases I say what does this special sound say?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

April,
One possible issue with using the rule even when it does apply is that young readers won’t be able to independently know when it applies and when it does not. Learning the sounds that every vowel team can possibly make and bypassing this rule altogether allows learners to be more confident without help.

April

says:

Yes, I agree. I should’ve elaborated more on teaching the vowel combinations and breaking it down that way. Thanks for info.

Charity

says:

That was very helpful

Beth J.

says:

I just discovered AAR and AAS and I’m excited to learn all I can to help my son!

Becky

says:

Good to know! I’m just starting out with AAR, and this is something we’d heard with what we’ve used previously.