Introduction to PCUES

With modern font technology, it is possible to add another (z) dimension of functionality to the letters of the alphabet. Specifically, it is possible to print letters (paper or screen) with intensity, size, shape, and spacing variations that, while retaining unambiguous letter recognition features, convey additional information or cues about how any given letter sounds in any particular word in which it is appearing.

PCUES are alphabet-general, letter-face variations that act as phonetic-pronunciation cues that significantly reduce the confusion involved in learning to read (See: Disambiguation).


PCUES or PQs – The “P” stands for ‘phonic’, ‘phonemic’, ‘pronunciation’, and ‘parallel’. Phonic because they cue sounds, phonemic because they cue sub-sound boundaries, pronunciation because they cue which of a letter’s possible sounds to pronounce, and parallel because they create a parallel process path for decoding to draw upon.

Ambiguity Reduction – The primary function of the PCUE system is to reduce the letter-sound correspondence ambiguity that is inherent in the ‘code’ and problematic to the process of learning to read.

Alphabet and Spelling Independent – PCUES do not require any changes to the alphabet or to English spelling. PCUES are variations in the appearance of letters that cue readers to pronounce letters and letter combinations in ways that corresponds to the sub-sounds of the words they appear in.

Readway Signs and Phonic Serifs – PCUESare analogous to ‘highway signs’ that inform a driver’s movement in traffic. PCUES are ‘readway signs’ that inform a reader’s pronunciation while reading. Just as serifs are intended to guide the eye toward more fluid letter-appearance recognition, PCUES are intended to guide the mind toward more fluid letter-sound recognition. Another parallel is with ‘parentese’ – the toddler talk that parents engage in to slow down the pace of language and emphasize the sounds in words. Pcues provide beginning readers what parentese provides listening toddlers – extra help that guides learning.

Font General – Pronunciation Specific – PCUES are font-general, not letter-specific. They, like ‘bold’, ‘Italics’, and ‘underline’, are general attributes of fonts that can, in principle, be applied to any letter. However, the way the cues are used to guide pronunciation is specific to a letter’s sound in the specific word it is encountered in. Just as ‘bold’, ‘italics’, and ‘underline’ are used to indicate or emphasize a specific meaning for the word or words being read, PCUES are used to indicate or emphasize a specific pronunciation for the letter or letters being read.

Visual Distinction – PCUES are visually distinct and easy to recognize. They do not obscure underlying letter recognition features.

Mental Resource Efficiency – PCUES are as intuitive as possible. To facilitate this, the appearance of a cue is, everywhere possible, a morphic analogy of the letter-sound variation it represents (e.g., larger for louder – faintly visible for silent – horizontally stretched to indicate a drawn out sound variation – closer together to indicate combined sounds). By making the visual difference in a letter’s appearance analogous to a corresponding difference in how it is to sound, PCUES minimize the memory and attentional processing resources required to recognize and use the cue.

Learning Ease – the pedagogy for learning to recognize and apply each cue is very simple and direct.

Minimal Number – The intent of Pcues is to reduce unnecessary mental processing operations. The trial-optimized system will achieve a balance between the numbers of cues, their ease of learning and the ambiguity the cues reduce.

Minimal Distraction – the cues should pose little distraction to an experienced reader.

Paper and E-paper based – It is our long-range intention to make this system available to all beginning and struggling readers.  As it will be a while before tablets and other information appliances replace paper as the primary medium of learning to read, the basic PCUES system is designed for the most low-cost common denominator: black and white paper printing.  However, for those with smart learning appliances, PCUES can be significantly more dynamic. They can be animated to appear synchronous with auditory pronunciation (pre-recorded or text-to-speech). They can also be personalized – any number of the cues can be turned on or off to better isolate attention on just the areas of code confusion the reader is learning to work through.

Training Wheels – PCUES act like training wheels by helping to keep readers from falling out of flow. Like training wheels, they are designed to ‘come off’ when the reader is ready. Because beginning and struggling readers will be learning to read with the normal alphabet and spelling (just getting help from the cues in decoding how they ‘sound’ together), their repeated successes with ever more familiar sub-word decoding will give them a ‘training wheels’ effect. When we later phase out or drop the cues, their decoding / reading experience will still be applicable. Recognizing letter combinations/sub-word sounds and how they combine should be much easier (very closely paralleling the bicycle training wheels metaphor).

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