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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 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. The PBS children’s program Between the Lions even devoted an entire song to the “two vowels go walking” rule.

The song illustrates the concept with a catchy tune and animated letters that walk together (hand in hand, no less!) on a road. But their conversation is one-sided, since the first vowel is the only one that is allowed to “do the talking.”

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 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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Patty Riemer

says:

Riemer is my last name.
Our family says Remer, not Rimer.
Most often we are called Rimer😡
Thanks for breaking the ‘rules’ down.
Sincerely Mrs. P. Riemer

Pamela Bradley

says:

That is a good approach. I like to teach the “rules” as generalizations and not hard and fast rules. I then teach other sounds that do not.

Andrei Gonzales Iturri

says:

This rule can be applied only fairly enough in 91% 71% 69% 96% 69% the rest are not worth enough to be cited.

William Short

says:

this was helpful

Shawn B Dallas

says:

If you teach this catchy little song (kids love it and can remember it easily) and only apply it to oa / ai / ea / ee / and (with a very close approximation of the sound ) ui as well, it works for most words. I wonder what the percentage of words that follow this rule would be for this subset? The ones that don’t “follow the rule” are often categorized as sight words.

I encourage people not to throw the baby out with the bath water!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Shawn,
Well, this “rule” would apply very well to OA, AI, and EE. It doesn’t apply to EA all that way, as EA has three sounds. Long E, Long A (great and break) and short E (health and dead). Long E is it’s most common sound, but there would still be over 160 words that don’t use the long E sound and would have to be learned as sight words.

And OA, AI, EE, and UI all have a single sound. It is simpler for most children to learn those sounds by directly connecting the phonogram to the sound, instead of having to remember which three or four vowel teams the rhyme applies to.

All About Reading and All About Spelling teaches many rules, but we do focus on ones that are reliable 95% or the time or more so students have very few sight words or exceptions to learn. This “rule” just doesn’t fit our criteria for reliability.

Mary Ann Barnett

says:

I’m so happy to hear this. My 7 year old granddaughter in First grade could never quite understand this. She even pointed out words to me that didn’t make sense. I’m excited about teaching her the All About Reading method.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mary Ann,
It sounds like your granddaughter is a very observant reader!

Devie

says:

How is “via” pronounced? Or “either”?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Devie,
Via is pronounced veye-uh or vee-uh. Either can be pronounced as ee-ther or eye-ther. Both are correct and a matter of personal preference, although regional accents may prefer one or the other.

Natasha Peak

says:

What about last name Buelt? My family pronounces it Built but that seems wrong.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Natasha,
Names are so difficult! Names, whether they be names for people or names of places, don’t have to follow rules or be predictable. History and language of origin play a huge part in name pronunciation. Look at the name Sean and how it is pronounced!

So, how your family pronounces Buelt is correct for your family.

Esther

says:

Wow, that is impressive data. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I also liked your idea of teaching phonograms instead Of that catchy phrase, but what about phonograms with more than one sound like ea, oo, etc they are usually theVowel teams that are tricky

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Esther,
Yes, phonograms with multiple sounds are tricky. All About Reading and All About Spelling teaches all the sounds of phonograms, but they ask students to only work with one sound for a long while before introducing words with the next sound. This helps to make them a lot less tricky as students can master one of the sounds before having to worry about the next one.

It’s not just the vowel teams, however. The letters O and Y each have four sounds! But AAR’s and AAS’s approach helps to minimize or even eliminate confusion over the multiple sounds of these letters and the many other phonograms.

Elizabeth Lambert

says:

Very well stated.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Elizabeth!

MA KAROLIA

says:

I gave up on english spelling when it came to vowels.
I going to try the sound of the letter combination vowels (phonograms)
GREAT HELP
Do appreciate

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Mai Tanya

says:

Thanks so much for the lesson,l will definitely keep this in mind,using the phonograms is much easier for the kids to master.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Mai. Phonograms are the way to go. 😊

NABBUMBA STELLA AGNES

says:

I happen to be among the lucky few who didn’t buy the “walking rule”. It sounded very ridiculous and so my students enjoy learning the phonograms by their sounds.
Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Your students are so fortunate, Stella! 😊

Ria B. Gee

says:

No. The only rule I was ever taught was; “I before E, except after C – usually!”
That’s it. I have had no problem with demonstrating the “rules”. So, maybe the problem is concentrating on teaching too many rules, rather than letting kids just use their common sense.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ria,
You do have a point about too many rules. It’s for that sort of reason that All About Reading and All About Spelling focus only on the rules that are reliable 95% of the time or more. Rules are helpful when they are reliable, but there are other Spelling Strategies as well.

Theresa Charles

says:

I find this rules absolutely great.
Thank you for the enlightenment

J. Waters

says:

Thanks, I learned something new today, for over 50 years I had it wrong.

Sandra Graham

says:

WOW! Thank you!

Luis Villalobos

says:

Excellent and excellency just beautifully done . Do some more in strategies in comprehension reading. Thank You so much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Luis,
Were you asking for information on reading comprehension? We have a blog post about that, How to Teach Reading Comprehension. Or is there something else you need?

Joanna Schoff

says:

Interesting. Can you share the 1000 and 2000 most common words?
Im interested to see it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Joanna,
If you do a search for the “2000 most common words in English” you will find many lists. Some are the most common spoken words, some are the most common written words, some list the words in order of frequency, some list them alphabetically, and so on.

One such list used in education today is the Dolch Word List, which is the 220 most common words in children’s books compiled in the 1930s. Here is a download of the Dolch Word List.

Sonika

says:

Helpful

JoEtta Jarecke

says:

awesome video

Tetiana Tkach

says:

Thanks!

Brandi

says:

I actually came here to research this curriculum for a friend who is considering homeschooling. I use Abeka, and honestly, this article is disappointing. Abeka does teach the 2 vowel rule, but of course it only applies to words that actually follow that rule. Abeka considers all the vowel teams that don’t make a long sound to be a “special sound” and those are taught differently. So the rule is actually super consistent and helpful! I have been teaching reading for years to first graders, both in public school and private school, and I have never had children be confused by it. Once I teach the rule, all I have to say is, “Remember! 2 vowels…” and they immediately know the rule. Of course, words with au, oi, ou, etc. don’t follow that rule because they make their own special sound, but kids can and will learn this easily!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Brandi,
I appreciate your observations on different ways this could be taught. In All About Reading, we simply teach students the sounds each team can make, so new readers don’t get confused about which pairs of vowels follow the rule and which pairs don’t. Also, there are vowel teams that sometimes follow the rule, like EA in beat, but other times don’t follow it, like in great and bread. You use OU as an example of a “special sound” that doesn’t follow this rule, but it actually does sometimes, such as in the words soul and four.

A study of more than 17,000 most commonly used words analyzed these words (for their phonograms, exceptions, rule-breakers, etc) and found that there are 25 standard vowel teams, and this rule is only “really useful” for 6 teams. And there are 6 vowel teams for which the rule is never true.

All About Reading and All About Spelling focus on rules that are reliable 95% of the time or more. The Two Vowels Go Walking rule doesn’t fit this criterion.

Thanks for your interest and for checking out our programs! I’m happy to help if you have any questions or would like more information.

Susy

says:

What a gracious and helpful response. Thank you.

Carrie L.

says:

This is ao helpful! My daughter was in speech therapy when she was younger, and her therapist told her this “rule”… I just shared this blog post with her and her exact words were, “So, that’s why I was having so many issues with those words!” 😁 She is mind blown!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carrie,
Thank you for sharing this with others. The more people that know how unreliable this rule is the better. 😊

Faye

says:

Wow. It is so easy to use the old rule. Where can I find your blog? I really need the why behind English spelling when working with my adult literacy student.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Faye,
Here is the link to our blog, https://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/. If you ever have any questions or need more information, just ask! Our products, especially All About Spelling, have had great success with adult learners.

Pamela Earwood

says:

Can I use this info when teaching teachers how to teach reading!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Pamela,
Yes! If you will use it printed, reprint the full article and please print this at the end:
For more resources for teaching reading and spelling, please visit http://www.AllAboutLearningPress.com, home of the All About Spelling and All About Reading programs (c) 2019 All About Learning Press, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Maureen

says:

Interested to hear more. I have been trying to teach the understanding around why words are spelt the way they are for years

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Maureen,
Learning the why behind English spelling makes learning to read and spell easier and more logical! Our blog is full of whys and patterns in English. Let me know if you have any specific questions.

Meta Pasternak

says:

Glad you told us what does work!

Barbie Mens

says:

Thank you for the insight. You have cleared my confusion on that. I have struggled with it for some time now.

Thank you Marie ❤️

Kristi from Texas

says:

Thank you so much for developing this program. After years of being frustrated with the public school system, I pulled my children and began homeschooling. One of the first programs I purchased was your spelling program and in just 10 months my 7th grader and 5th grader were spelling BETTER than all those years in public school who taught “spelling patterns”. Of course, when they were teaching two phonograms that had the same sound, the teacher couldn’t help the student learn when to use which. My children were also taught this walking rule and I quickly found out that it did not always work. Your program has been well worth it and I am also learning in the process like “Why is CAT spelled with a “C”? Thank you again.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Kristi. I can only imagine how hard it must be to teach a classroom full of students how to read and spell without being able to help them with the rules and patterns of English.

I’m pleased to hear that All About Spelling is working so well for your family!

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