Language software code 'deciphers' English
By CNN's Grant Holloway
SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- One of the greatest difficulties in learning the English language is understanding that alphabet characters can change how they sound from word to word, or often have no sound at all.
For every rule of English there are a myriad of exceptions and irregularities, which compound illiteracy problems for native English speakers and frustrate the efforts of non-English speakers.
For example, the letter "a" can be sounded at least 10 different ways in 10 different words, and often two or three different ways within a single world.
A new Australian-developed language learning system could have the potential to significantly reduce the difficulties of learning English and improve general literacy levels for children.
Australian language researcher and software programmer Joseph Mamone has painstakingly developed over more than 15 years a system which "explains" how the two million commonly used words in the English language sound.
The system, which he calls DD-code, breaks each word in the English language down into four, color-coded and numbered components.
These represent the 22 English vowel sounds, the 26 phonetic consonant sounds, consonant letters which change their sounds or are not phonetically sounded, and letters which are silent.
For example, take the word: "Observed". In DD-code it would be broken down in the following way.
The "o" would be colored magenta with a small number -- in this case a "22"-- above it to represent its vowel sound.
The "b" would be black, representing a phonetically sounded consonant.
The "s" would be blue, representing a consonant that changes sound. Above it would be a small "z", representing the actually consonant sound the letter makes in the word.
The "er" would be magenta and number 13 for its vowel sound.
The "v" would be black, for a phonetically sounded consonant.
The "e" would be yellow, meaning it is not sounded.
The "d" would be a black, phonetically sounded consonant.
To see how this works, click on the sample box in this paragraph and wait for the sample page to fully download. When it is loaded click the dd-code tab at the top of the page, this will translate the sample text into DD-Code. Run your cursor over each letter to see how the system works.
Three accent versions
Mamone's system also accounts for emphasis and intonation within words and sentences and has been developed in three accent versions: Mid-Atlantic American English, Queen's English and Australian English.
What Mamone says he has done is develop a "100 percent reliable, speech-to-text mathematical algorithm for the association of sound to letters within whole words".
"What we have created is a simple key, such as on a roadmap. Once you learn the key, you have the tools to read and pronounce correctly every word in the English language," says Mamone.
While other literacy and English language learning systems have been developed in the past -- such as the Words in Color system -- DD-Code supporters say none are anywhere near as comprehensive as Mamone's system.
Nor have they been developed to take advantage of advances in computer technology.
Educationalists and language teachers who have tested the DD-code system on children with learning difficulties have been impressed by its effectiveness.
Anthony Tannous, who runs the Back to the Future literacy schools in Sydney, Australia, says the DD-Code system is the most intensive language system he has come across.
"We were very cautious at first," he said.
"We had been looking for a literacy program for a number of years and we had looked at a number of other options. When we saw DD-code we quickly realized this was probably the most comprehensive literacy program ever devised.
"We were in a position to compare and the other programs we looked at were shallow in comparison."
Tannous told CNN that since introducing the program earlier this year, the school had had a 95 percent success rate with children making significant improvements in their literacy levels within a few months.
"The results we have seen have been quite astonishing."
Structured and coherent system
He said the school was now getting queries and feedback from teachers who were noticing the sharp improvements in the literacy of the children using the system.
Another supporter is former principal of King's Christian College, Queensland, Dr Robert Paech.
A former research scientist, Paech said Mamone's system was the most structured and coherent system for English language learning that he had encountered.
He said the history of the development of English was one of overlapping influences which had created many inconsistencies between the way words looked and how they sounded.
Teaching approaches had swung between teaching "whole word recognition" and the "phonetic" approach, both of which were deficient because of the inconsistencies.
Where the DD-code system was strong was that it enabled the entire English language to be broken wholly down into phonetic parts, he said.
So far, the DD-code system has only been used commercially on a limited basis for helping Australian children improve their literacy levels.
But Mamone is keen to further develop DD-code applications for teaching non-English speakers the language and for improving accents and pronunciation.
The system also has the potential, says Mamone, to help computer-generated voice systems to sound more natural and assist in the development of voice-recognition computer systems.
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