PCUES are systematic variations in the appearance of letters that look like morphic analogs of the sound variations they suggest (for example, barely visible grey for silent letters). By improving how letters cue sounds (like the alphabet originally did), PCUES reduces the cognitive processing work that most impedes and endangers the progress of beginning and struggling readers (disambiguating letter-sound relationship confusion).


It’s important to separate a cue’s logical function (what kind of letter-sound confusion it addresses) from a cue’s rendering (how the visual variation in a cued letter or letters looks).  In the PCUES / Training Wheels for Literacy system, the logic of cues (PCUES Logic) and how cues are rendered (PCUES Code) are separate processes (see Technology)

PCUES Logic:

In order to assign PCUES font-rendering variations, we have to delineate the sound variations they are to cue. Here we depart from the already literate expert labelling conventions used by linguists and orthographists (vowels, consonants, diphthongs, trigraphs, etc.,) and focus instead on the kinds of confusion beginning and struggling readers experience:

  • Does it sound like its letter-name? One of the difficult confusions for developing readers is a consequence of learning the ABCs (letter-name sounds) and the ABC song. Because most children learn the ‘ABCs’ before they begin to learn to read, their brain’s learn (neurons wire and fire) to associate a letter with its letter name sound.  When later learning to read, their brains’ response to seeing a letter is to ‘hear’ its letter name. As it is often the case that letters don’t sound like their letter names, this association confuses the process of learning to read.
  • If not a letter-name, which of its other sounds? Letters have letter-name sounds and many letters have more than one non-letter name sound.
  • Is it a silent letter? Some letters are not pronounced, as in the case of the ‘a’ in ‘sea’ and the ‘k’ and ‘w’ in know.
  • Does it stand alone or combine with others? Combined letter sounds are in a class by themselves. The problem with combined letter sounds is recognizing that their individual letters are not to be decoded separately but combined to represent their distinctly assigned sounds.
  • Does its sound run together with its adjacent letters’ sounds or is there a syllable/segment pause in sound before or after it?

PCUES: provide readers cues which let them know when a letter sounds like it’s letter name and when it doesn’t; whether a letter is silent, which of a letter’s non-letter name sounds it’s making, whether a letter is part of a larger unit with it’s own sound, and where the segments of pronunciation are in the word they are reading.

PCUES Rendering: Within existing font technology, there are a number of ways (without changing basic letter recognition features) to vary the appearance of individual letters to cue their sounds:

  • Increase/Decrease Size
  • Bold (if word already bold, then bold + increased size)
  • Shades of Gray (color)
  • CW-CCW Rotation
  • +/- Elevation
  • +/- Spacing
  • dots (between segments)
  • gray underline (blends)
  • Shape Distortion (morph just width or height or angular distortion)
  • Using two or more fonts in the same word

By using special, but already existent fonts, we can add

  • Outlined fonts

By creating PCUES custom fonts, we can add

  • Partially filled in outlined fonts

The appearance of cues can also be varied to fit the needs and preferences of different types of beginning and struggling readers (for example, large fonts with kiddie serifs for children). The first version of PCUES will stay within the defined limits of font rendering/appearance variation rendering common to all software and hardware platforms.  With special fonts designed to maximally enable and emphasize PCUES we will eventually do even more. As we progress, PCUES rendering will evolve through trials and, later, more widespread use.

PCUES Styles: Logic and Rendering (simple)

Many of the kinds of confusion PCUES logic targets can be cued with relatively simple and straightforward variations in font rendering,

(LN) Letter-Name  [Bold]

The first class of PCUES provides beginning readers a way to determine when a letter’s sound is to be read as its letter name and when it is not.

A cake
By using bold to indicate letter-name sounds, there is a direct analogy of form to the letter name’s difference in sound and the recognition of the visual cue is minimally abstract – more intuitively obvious – and therefore easier to remember. *Larger bold is used for letter-name sounds when the entire word is already rendered in bold.

(SL) Silent Letters [Grey]

 Silent / Unpronounced (possibly minimally pronounced) are PCUED rendered in GRAY.

By graying silent letters, there is a direct analogy of form to the letter name’s difference in sound and a minimally abstract and maximally analogous, intuitive, and easy way to recognize and remember the use of the cue.

(CL) Combined Letter Sounds (th, ph, ch, sh, etc..) [- Kerning]

Reducing the space between letters (-kerning) is used to cue readers to recognize such groups and to indicate that they are to make their own sound. This immediately removes the combined letters (blends, digraphs, trigraphs) from consideration for isolated decoding.

The letter spacing of the ‘ch’ in ‘change’, the ‘th’ in ‘the’, and the ‘ph’ in ‘phoneme’ are nearly in contact with one another (obviously differently spaced) to cue that they are letter combinations to be read as one unit. Placing letters in contact with one another to indicate that they are to be read as a group is a perfect morphic analogy.

(CL) Combined Letters Sounds and/or Blends [Gray underlining)

In addition to or as an alternate to reducing the space between letters we can underline combined (th, ph, ch, sh, etc..) or blended (bl, tw, oo, st, etc..) letters.


(SG) Segmentation [+ Kerning]

To avoid the decoding problems posed by ‘longer’ words, PCUES extends the space between letters (+kerning) to cue syllable boundaries:


(SG) Segmentation [dots]

An alternate to increasing the space between segments we can use the traditional dictionary approach of inserting dots:

segmentation dots

With straightforward cues for Letter Name (LN), Silent (SL), Combined (CL), and Segments (SG) addressing the simpler confusions, we can address the more complex variables associated with the remaining alternate letter sounds.

PCUES Styles: Logic and Rendering: Alternate Letter Sounds (complex)

Once we can rely on the letter-name (LN) cues to indicate when a letter is making its letter-name sound, those letters that have only one non-letter-name sound can be left as is.  For the remaining letters that have more sounds than the letter-name, silent, and combined PCUES cover, we can make further distinctions about their sound differences that can be used to cue recognizing them.

Pitch – Alternate letter sounds have higher or lower pitches than then their letter names (for example: the first ‘y’ in mystery and dynasty is making a short ‘i’ sound and the second ‘y’ is making the ‘e’ sound. The short ‘i’ sound, is a lower pitch than the ‘e’ sound).

Slice – Alternate letters sounds often have some part or ‘slice’ of the letter’s letter-name sounds. (for example: the ‘s’ in PCUES is making the ‘z’ sound which is the later part of the whole ‘S’ sound).

Duration  Alternate letter sounds can be longer or shorter in duration than their letter-name sounds. (for example the short ‘a’ in cat vs the long drawn out ‘a’ in walk.

Spectrum  Sometimes all the sounds of a letter are internally related variations as in the case with the letter ‘a’, which in addition to the LN ‘a’ sound can also sound like aw (talk), or ae (dad). In this sense, ‘a’, ‘ae’ and ‘aw’ are variations along a spectrum of sounds the ‘a’ makes.

Discreteness – Some letters have letter sounds that do not sound at all similar, as in the case with the letter ‘c’, which can also sound like the totally different sound ‘k’.

Rendering Options for Alternate Letter Sounds (AL)

(AL-DL) Alternate Letter Sounds – Discrete:  Many letters are used to represent sounds that have no resemblance to their letter name sound (‘c’ as ‘k’, ‘s’ as ‘c’, ‘x’ as ‘z’, etc.). One approach to cueing is to draw upon their difference in pitch.  Each different letter sound can be distinguished as being either lower or higher in tone or pitch than the letter’s LN sound. Using this basis for discrimination, we change the elevation of the letter as a cue for prompting the reader to know that this letter has discrete letter sounds as opposed to a spectrum of letter sounds and, subsequently, which of the letters alternate sounds it is to make.

Discrete Alt Sounds

The ‘c’ in ‘can’ is a ‘k’ sound that is lower in pitch than its LN and can be represented by lowering it. The ‘x’ in ‘xerox’ is a ‘z’ sound and can be represented by raising it. Vertical centering or elevation represents a visually-conceptually analogous rendering.

(AL-SP) Alternate Letter Sounds – Spectrum: As with the ‘discrete’ alternate letter sounds, each spectrum (‘a’, ‘ae’, ‘aw’, etc.) letter’s alternate sounds can be represented on a scale within which each alternate sound is either ‘lower’ or ‘higher’ in tone/pitch than its letter name sound. For example, the ‘i’ in ‘animal’ sounds like ‘eh’ which is a ‘lower’ tone then the ‘i’ in ‘his’ which sounds like ‘ih’.

The ‘a’ in ‘had’ is lower in tone than it’s LN and can be represented by rotating it backwards or lowering it. The ‘a’ in ‘walk’ is even lower in tone than the ‘a’ in ‘had’ and can is represented by a greater exaggeration of rotation or lowering.

PCUE Alternate Letter Sound Styles:

In a future trial system, we will use rotation for spectrum cues and elevation for discrete cues:

See also our page on additional “Alternative PCUE Styles”

Additional Pcues:

Affixes  at the beginning (prefixes), the middle (infixes) or the end (suffixes) of words can be Pcued by using a different font to render them.



The final visual variation styles for the cues should be the result of a collaborative effort which includes reading specialists, graphic artists, font designers and, of course, extensive learning and testing with developing readers. However, of the cues described here, these are our starting set:

Letter Name (LN), Combined Letter (CL), Silent (SL) and Segmentation (SG) cues are the core set.  They all offer significant ambiguity reduction, are easy to recognize and appear as visual analogs of the pronunciation directions they cue.

Of the more complicated remaining cues, we favor elevation for discrete letter cues (DL) and an either duration or rotation for spectrum letter cues (SP).

NOTE: for our initial trial with adults we combined ‘discrete’ and ‘spectrum’ cues and used elevation (up or down) to represent both.  See: Examples

Our implementation examples are incomplete and not fully consistent. We are not suggesting that these embodiments of the concept are the ‘right’ ones. Determining which variations of PCUE styles are ‘right’ for each class and kind of ambiguity (PCUE logic), will require further research and trial based tuning. In particular, ALcues, which require more post-recognition processing, need to evolve via trials with beginning readers.

We can iterate our way to a system of cues that will dramatically reduce the ambiguity that impedes learning to read. We can do this without change to the alphabet or the English system of spelling and without having to train the minds of our students in any way approaching the complexity of phonics. We can create a tool that can scan through the text of any document and automatically reformat the appearance of the document (by employing the cue system) and consequently render it significantly easier to read. (see: Technology)


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