English (UK) Vowel Sounds

Learning to hear and differentiate the vowel sounds from consonant sounds is an important skill in understanding how words are formed. Every word in the English Language has to have a vowel sound in it and every syllable in a word also has to have a vowel sound within it. This knowledge is an important element in developing our phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge as we start to learn how to read and spell words.

There are 20 vowel sounds in the English (UK) Language, usually (in the UK Education System) split into two main categories based on sound quality:

  • ‘Short’ vowel sounds, due to the short duration of the sound being made, the sound cannot be held onto without becoming distorted
  • ‘Long’ vowel sounds, due to the length of their pronunciation, these can often be held without distorting their sound.

Here at Teach Phonics we split the ‘long’ vowel sounds category into ‘long’ vowel sounds and ‘long ‘R’ controlled’ vowel sounds. The ‘long ’R’ controlled’ vowel sounds are so called because of the slight /r,(r)/ sound quality that can be heard in them.

The English Phoneme Chart, which uses the unique symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), splits the 20 vowel sound into two groups based on mouth position:

  • Monophthongs which have one mouth position throughout the sound
  • Diphthongs, where the mouth position changes, giving a 2 sound quality to the phoneme.

The Consonant Sounds with their Most Common Letter and Letter Combinations

There are 24 consonant sounds in the English language. A consonant sound is made (produced) when the air flow is being restricted in some way, which means that the mouth doesn’t open as wide and so the jaw doesn’t drop noticeably, which is different from vowel sounds.

Here is a list of just some of the most commonly seen letter and letter combinations used to represent the 24 consonant sounds. For a more comprehensive lists check out our English Phoneme Chart or Alphabet Keyboard which can be found on our ‘Phonemes’ page: bit.ly/1Qgc9dA

  • /b,(b)/ bin, rabbit
  • /k,(k)/ cat, key, duck, queen, anchor, broccoli
  • /ch,(ʧ)/ church, watch
  • /d,(d)/ dog, ladder, towed
  • /f,(f)/  fish, puffin, phone, laugh
  • /g,(g)/ girl, digger, ghost
  • /h,(h)/ hen, who
  • /j,(ʤ)/  jigsaw, giant, bridge
  • /l,(l)/   lion, llama
  • /m,(m)/  man, hammer, lamb
  • /n,(n)/   nest, penny, knife, gnome
  • /ng,(ŋ)/ king, sink
  • /p,(p)/    panda, hippo
  • /r,(r)/   robin, lorry, wrist
  • /s,(s)/  sun, dress, city, geese, castle
  • /sh,(ʃ)/  ship, chef, delicious, initials, sugar
  • /t,(t)/   tent, butterfly, jumped
  • /th,(θ)/  thumb
  • /th,(ð)/ feather, breathe
  • /v,(v)/ van, sleeve, of
  • /w,(w)/ well, whale, penguin
  • /y,(j)/ yo-yo, euro
  • /z,(z)/  zero, puzzle, sneeze, cheese, is
  • /zh,(Ʒ)/ measure, television

Sounds in the English (UK) Language

Blog Phonics

The English Language is created through the different combinations of 44 sounds (phonemes), 20 vowels and 24 consonants. Vowel sounds allow the air to flow freely, causing the chin to drop noticeably, whilst consonant sounds are produced by restricting the air flow.

Vowel sounds are usually (in the UK Education System) split into two main categories based on sound quality:

  • ‘Short’ vowel sounds, due to the short duration of the sound being made. The sound cannot be held onto without becoming distorted
  • ‘Long’ vowel sounds, due to the length of their pronunciation. These can often be held without distorting their sound.

Consonant sounds are made (produced) when the air flow is being restricted in some way, for example, changes in tongue position resulting in the mouth not opening as wide. This means that the jaw doesn’t drop noticeably, which is different to vowel sounds.

Because the English language is so rich and diverse it is very difficult to create a ‘phonics’ system that caters for all. Every region that speaks the English language has its own accent with variations in the way that a word is pronounced.

Across England we all spell words the same but we certainly do not say them all the same even though we all use the same 44 sounds. In the English language the 44 sounds can be represented by over 280 letter combinations.

So accents have arisen from regions applying different phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters) when they pronounce words. The regions still use the same sounds and letters, they just associate them differently.

However, for general educational and learning purposes the English language’s phonics system has been standardized, this is known as the ‘Received Pronounced’ (RP) English, and is used in comprehensive English dictionaries and translation dictionaries. The RP is based on a southern accent, sound to letter relationships basis.

This can make teaching phonics a little tricky; the key is to teach the sound to letter relationships which best suit the children being taught in relation to their regional accent. It is important to remember that children’s knowledge of the sounds that make words is based on how you speak to them naturally and not a strict standardized set of sounds.

The Simple View of Reading

The simple view of Reading diagram

The term ‘Simple View of Reading’ used by schools may seem strange as there is nothing simple about learning to read.

The Simple View of Reading was adopted by the Government in 2007 and now underpins the English National Curriculum’s programmes of study for reading at Key Stage 1 and 2.

Even though reading, the ability to decode the word and extract the correct meaning of the words, is a complex set of skills; the Simple View of Reading conceptual framework (Stuart et al. 2008, cited Hoover and Gough, 1986) reduces it down to two key components:

  • Word recognition – the ability to decode unknown words and recognise printed words.
  • Language comprehension – the ability to understand the spoken words and use this process to understand the written text.
Reading Comprehension = Decoding x Linguistic Comprehension

So in theory a child’s reading comprehension ability can be predicted by looking at their decoding and linguistic (spoken language) comprehension abilities (Johnston & Watson, 2007).

When using the Simple View of Reading as the basis for teaching reading it becomes clearer as to why:

  • A high quality phonics scheme is required, which the Rose Report (2006) explains ‘…is not a  ‘strategy’ so much as a body of knowledge, skills and understanding that has to be learned.’ (page 20) [This teaches children how to decode.]
  • A language rich environment to develop and encourage linguistic comprehension is vital.

The simple view of Reading diagram

For a pdf copy of this diagram: https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/The%20simple%20view%20of%20Reading%20diagram.pdf

Bibliography

Johnston.R. and Watson.J. ‘Teaching Synthetic Phonics’, 2007, Pub: Learning Matters, Sage Publication Ltd.

Rose.J. ’Independent review of the teaching of early reading: final report March 2006’ Pub: DfES Publications

 The simple view of reading and evidence based practice’  Rhona Stainthorp Institute of Education, Reading University, Morag Stuart, Institute of Education, University of London (2008) Pdf downloaded from internet

Why do we ask children to read out aloud?

Reading with boy 4506329-1801x2700 (2)

Reading is the ability to first decode the letter sequence of the word (phonics) and then to place meaning to it in relation to the context in which it is being used.

We ask children who are learning to read to ‘read out aloud’, but forget to tell them why. It is not just so we can hear they have decoded a word correctly. The important point is to encourage them to actively listen to what they are saying. The idea is that if they hear the words they will, if it is part of their vocabulary, understand their meaning and therefore fully comprehend the text they have read.

Unfortunately many children just decode, speak and do not actively listen to what they have said, so they do not gain meaning from the words they are reading (poor reading comprehension skills).

Poor reading comprehension skills may also occur because a child has a limited vocabulary usage and /or understanding. A language rich environment is vital to help support and develop a child’s vocabulary and linguistic comprehension which in turn will support their reading comprehension skills.

What are Graphemes & Phonemes?

 

Graphemes are the alphabet letters, or letter combinations, that represent a single sound in a written word.

An example of a single letter representing a single sound (a grapheme) can be seen in the following words: sat, pat and dog.

Some sounds are represented by two letters and are called digraphs such as the ‘ch’ in ‘chip’ or ‘sh’ in ‘shop’ or ‘ea’ in ‘head’ and the ‘ai’ in ‘rain’.

Other sounds can be represented by 3 (trigraphs) or 4 (quadgraph) letter combinations such as ‘igh’ in ‘light’ and ‘eigh’ in ‘eight’.

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound of a language; which we blend together to form words.

The English Language has 44 phonemes, 24 consonants and 20 vowels, represented by the unique symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

The 44 phonemes of English are represented by more than 280 letter or letter combinations. Most letters therefore never make just one sound and that sound can be made by more than one letter or letter combination.

We have created over 1,000 videos that split words into their individual phonemes, showing which letters are making which sound in each word. You can access these videos in two ways:

  • If you want to know which letter or letter combination represents a sound, click on the relevant phoneme button on the English Phoneme Chart;
  • If you want to know what sound a letter or letter combination makes, click on the relevant letter or letter combination on the Alphabet Keyboard.

We hope you find these useful.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological Awareness Chart

Phonics is stage 8 of our phonological awareness development, so what comes before?

Pre-phonics skills are those a child learns as they develop through the phonological awareness stages 1 to 7. Throughout this time they are continually developing their understanding and knowledge of our spoken language as well as other communication forms, such as gestures, facial expressions, body language and social conventions.

Speaking and listening skills play a vital role in helping a child develop their phonics knowledge, as they need to be exposed to a wide and varied vocabulary that allows them to hear and use the range of sounds that form our language.

Being exposed to a greater range of sound experiences helps a child to develop their awareness of the sounds around them. The more they hear, the more associations they can make to those sounds (what they see, feel, experience), the greater their ability to distinguish between them. This skill becomes important later on as they begin to isolate individual words in sentences, being able to distinguish between words that sound similar such as dog and hog.

Through listening and speaking games and activities a child is exposed to new vocabulary, as well as learning to play with the sounds in their language. This helps them to remember how the sounds feel when they make them as well as how they sound in isolation and when combined with other sounds.

Scientist believe a child’s sound awareness begins before they are born; at about 24 weeks, which highlights the importance of sound awareness, including environmental and speech sounds, as part of our instinctive natural development.

To find out more about the different developmental stages of a child’s phonological awareness click here.