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, such as the /e,(e)/ in me, pea and tree
  • ‘Long’ vowel sounds, due to the length of their pronunciation, these can often be held without distorting their sound, such as the /oi,(ɔI)/ sound found in the words: boy, coin and buoy

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 for example the /or,(ɔː)/ sound found in the words: fork, door, walk and sauce.

The English Phoneme Chart (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-phoneme-chart.html), which uses the unique symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), splits the 20 vowel sounds into two groups based on mouth position:

  • Monophthongs which have one mouth position throughout the sound for example /e,(e)/ in me.
  • Diphthongs, where the mouth position changes, giving a 2 sounds quality to the phoneme for example, /oi,(ɔI)/ in boy.

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 (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-phoneme-chart.html) or Alphabet Keyboard (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-alphabet-chart.html) which can be found on our ‘Phonics’ page (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics.html):                    

  • /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

What are Vowels and Consonants?

The English Language is created through the different combinations of 44 sounds (phonemes), 20 vowels and 24 consonants. In our written language we refer to the letters of the alphabet as being consonant or vowel letters depending on which type of sound they are representing.

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.

The letters of the alphabet that we normally associate as being the vowel letters are: a, e, i, o and u. The letter ‘y’ is sometimes referred to as an honorary or semi vowel as it is used to replace one of the other vowel letters in words such as: fly, shy, why or my.

All words in the English language have at least one vowel sound in them so the written version must have at least one vowel letter in it.

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.

The letters of the alphabet that usually represent the consonant sounds are: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z. 

What are Graphemes & Phonemes?

A couple of weeks ago we started to explain some of the technical language associated with the teaching of phonics, which some new parents may have little or no knowledge of. So, we thought it would be a good idea to continue with this over next couple of weeks to further support you in helping your child.

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

An example of a single letter (grapheme) representing a single sound (a phoneme) 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 (quadgraphs) 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 (UK) 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:

  1. If you want to know which letter or letter combination represents a sound, click on the relevant phoneme button on the English Phoneme Chart (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-phoneme-chart.html );
  2. If you want to know what sound a letter or letter combination makes and see supporting animations, click on the relevant letter or letter combination on the Alphabet Keyboard (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-alphabet-chart.html ).

We hope you find these useful.

Are your child’s #phonics skills good for their age?

With more and more expected of our pre-school and 4 to 7 year old children it can be difficult to know what the realistic age appropriate skills are in relation to phonics.

In fact, phonics is only part of the story starting at stage 8 of a child’s phonological awareness development.

Stages 1 to 7 of a child’s phonological awareness, what we refer to as pre-phonics skills, are the continual development of their understanding and knowledge of our spoken language as well as other communication forms, such as gestures, facial expressions, body language and social conventions.

Stages 8 to 10 of a child’s phonological awareness, the phonics reading and writing stages are the continual development of their understanding and knowledge for learning to reading and write.

As a child’s phonological awareness skills build on each stage, the age at which a child reaches them varies making it difficult to know how your child is doing.

We recognise this variation and use age ranges as a rough guide to help you understand where your child is in their phonological awareness skills.

By clicking on the various stages of phonological awareness you will find appropriate age range information, advice and activities to support your child. Try not to jump a stage as each one is important in unlocking the knowledge and skills for the stage above.

Stages 1 to 7 (Pre-phonics skills): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html

Stages 8 to 10 (Phonics): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development-phonics.html

What is #phonics and #phonemic awareness?

With the new school year well under way many new parents are being introduced to the world of phonics and all the technical language associated with it. So, we thought we would take this opportunity to demystify some of that technical language.

Phonics is the association of sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes). For reading (decoding) the phonics coding system is used to convert the written word into sounds. For spelling (encoding) the same phonics coding system is used to covert sounds heard into letters to form written words.

Phonemic awareness is our ability to split words into their smallest sound units (individual phonemes) and to manipulate these sounds through segmentation, blending, substitution, re-ordering and deletion. This is based on what we hear and say, not the written word.

Good phonemic awareness is the vital skill required before phonics can be introduced successfully as a tool for learning to read and spell.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.
  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog.
  • Substitution – being able to swap one sound for another in a word, for example swapping the /k,(k)/ sound in the word ‘cat’ with a /h,(h)/ sound to say the word ‘hat’.
  • Reordering – being able to swap the sounds around to create a new word, for example changing the order of the letters in the word ‘cat’ to form the new word ‘act’.
  • Deletion (omission) – being able to remove a sound from a word to create a new word, for example removing the /t,(t)/ sound from the word ‘cart’ to say the new word ‘car’.

These are developed further when phonics is introduced, sound to letter association.

Watch our ‘Single Word Reading’ animation to see these manipulation skills in action: bit.ly/20JAHSa

The Importance of Using Letter Names for Developing Handwriting, Phonics and Reading Skills

Here at Teach Children we have always promoted the importance and power of teaching the correct letter names to begin with; through our Teach Handwriting website, Schemes and Teach Phonics website. Unfortunately, some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics, which is just not correct.

A myth which became popular, in the early years of introducing synthetic phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, in recent years this has started to change as phonics schemes have adjusted some of their approaches to teaching phonics to include the use of letter names.

Learning the unique letter names of the alphabet is a pre-phonics skill; as well as an early learning goal. It has to be remembered that a letter is a shape which only represents a sound when it is placed within a word or sentence (has a context). Also, a letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only unique way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their names.

It is important to remember that just because a child can correctly recite the ‘Alphabet’ song it does not mean they know the letters of the alphabet. It is surprising how many children can do this but when shown letters from the alphabet cannot name them at all. They may be able to tell you the sound the letter makes but have no idea of the letters name.

Learning the correct letter names helps to reinforce that when talking about the letter ‘a’ (ay) for example it has a set shape regardless of the sound that it will be representing in the word. This further supports children’s handwriting development as the communication of your requirements is unambiguous.

Teaching the correct letter names is important when supporting handwriting as this can in turn affect a child’s phonics understanding later on. For example, it can seem very easy when explaining to a child which letter to write when they ask which one is making a ‘kuh’ sound in a word such as cat to say a ‘curly kuh’. There is no such letter in the alphabet called ‘curly kuh’ it is the letter ‘c’ (cee). By adding the ‘kuh’ sound to the letter it reinforces incorrect phonics knowledge. The letter ‘c’ does not make a ‘kuh’ sound in words such as: city, circle, cycle and centre.

Some children will then only ever refer to the letter ‘c’ as ‘curly kuh’ and the letter ‘k’ as’ kicking kuh’. As I say these are not letter names of the alphabet and also devalue the power of phonics at the same time.

How can the education establishment get hot under the collar about not using the correct terminology in the teaching of English in schools such as: phonemes, graphemes, digraphs, modal verbs etc… yet still refer to the letter’s ‘c’ and ‘k’ as ‘curly or kicking kuh’!

Phonics is a powerful decoding and encoding tool. However, so is the alphabet letter naming system. Both need to working side by side to support our children, especially in those early years of their educational journey.

The English phonic system is very complex but this is why our language is so rich. Young children need to use letter names as an additional tool, as it takes many years for them to be introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

Alphabet Name animation (scroll to the bottom of the page): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-graphemes.html

Back to School – Ways to Support Your Child’s Phonics Knowledge

After such a long break from school it is good to take some time to check your child has not slipped back.

Playing some simple letter name and sound games can really help get your child (and you) back into school mode.

Some simple game ideas:

  • You can use words in books, cards, on labels or signs when out and about.  Ask your child to point to a particular letter in the word using the letter name. Then ask your child to say the word, or you can say it. Then ask them to tell you what sound the letter is making in that word.
  • Pick a card at random, using lower-case and capital letter flash cards (you can make your own); show your child and ask them to tell you the name of the letter on the card, and to give you a sound the letter makes. Ask older children to give you the other sounds the letter can make. For older children you can also use cards that have common digraphs (two letters representing one sound) and trigraphs (three letters representing one sound) on.
  • Play Pelmanism (Memory Game). How to Play:
    • You will need two sets of flash cards. The cards are thoroughly mixed and spread face down on the table or floor. They can be arranged in a regular pattern or randomly, but they must not overlap.
    • One player turns over a card, leaving it in the same place, they say what it is (letter name and/or sound) and then turn over another saying what it is. If the two cards match then the player keeps them and has another go. If the cards do not match then the cards are turned back over in the same location as before and it is the next players turn.
    • The game is finished when all the cards have been matched and the winner is the one with the most pairs.

If you are not sure of all the sounds a letter, or combination of letters, can represent then use our Alphabet Keyboard to help you find the sounds (phonemes):  https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-alphabet-chart.html

Summer Fun – Get Cooking!

Cooking is a great fun way to practise getting both hands to work together. This helps to develop coordination, hand and finger strength and dexterity skills; all skills required for handwriting. However, it is amazing how much talk can come from this as well; not just at the time with you but when they share the day’s experience with others later on (developing their phonological awareness).

An added benefit at this time of year is that you can do ‘Pick Your Own’. Getting out and about and encouraging your child to pick their own fruit is not only great fun but another sneaky way of working on their hand and finger strength and dexterity.

There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food (make a large batch and freeze the rest).

So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ or check out the bargains at your local shops/market and get cooking!

Summer Fun – Think more Play, Play and Play!!!

The last thing you and your child probably want to think about right now is handwriting or phonics and getting ready for next term; and quite right too!

So, don’t think about it in the conventional way of practise, practise and practise.

Think more play, play and play!!!

Children learn so much through just playing; developing physical, mental, communication and vocabulary strengths and skills, which all support them at school and with learning.

Once introduced to a new game or activity children will very often take it and make it their own, making new rules and introducing extra characters or challenges.

The skill as a parent is remembering to let go of your preconceived ideas about how a game should be played and letting your child take the initiative.

If you provide the opportunities, it is amazing how they will take on the challenge of inventing a new game or (in their eyes) improving an existing one.

This does not have to cost a penny; use the toys they already have or make games using empty plastic bottles or cardboard tubes.

The following types of play can support and develop the key strengths and skills your child needs for handwriting and you have not had to mention school or homework.

  • The local play park is a fantastic free resource; running, jumping, crawling and climbing can all be encouraged. If your child is a little reluctant then it may well be that they are unsure how to do some of these activities. Explain when jumping that they needed to land on their feet and bend their knees as they land. Start small and as their confidence grows so does the height or distance they jump. Climbing can be scary for some children so again explain how to climb, moving one hand or foot at a time so that there are always three other points of contact.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a garden then mud play is messy but so much fun, it can be contained in a small area and will not only make you a cool adult but, if you join in, it will knock years off you (have a go, it is a great free therapy session).
  • Skittle games are always fun, extend the activity by decorating the skittles (plastic bottles or cardboard tubes) using anything from crayons, paint or even dress them up as people or animals.

Enjoy!