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?

Last week 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;
  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.

We hope you find these useful.

What is the difference between #phonics and #phonemic awareness?

With the new school year well under way many new parents are being introduced to the world of phonics and the 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 phonic 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.

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

  • 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/letter association 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/letter association 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/letter association 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’.

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

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

What is Phonics?

With the new school year under way some of you will have been introduced to phonics for the first time. Phonics is a very useful decoding tool used for developing reading skills and as an encoding tool for spelling.

Phonics is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phoneme) to letter (grapheme) combinations there are. So, to be good at phonics a child needs to know the 44 sounds and numerous letter and letter combinations of English and then learn the associations between the two.

Children can communicate orally from an early age; it is when they move to the written word that they need to learn how to decode text, to turn the letters into words they already know.  

Using phonics knowledge for reading entails:

  1. Identify the letter or letter combination, in a word, that represent a sound
  2. Associate the letter or letter combination to one of the 44 sounds
  3. Blend each of the sounds together to form the word
  4. Recognise the now oral word to extract its meaning

The theory supporting the teaching of reading using phonics, especially synthetic phonics, is that if a child can decode a word by associating individual sounds to a letter or combination of letters they will then be able to blend those sounds together to form and say the word.

Once a word has been spoken they will extract its meaning by using their far more extensive spoken language comprehension. Children are therefore using the same mental processes to understand written text and speech.

Using Letter Names & Phonics

On our Teach Phonics website, and as part of our Teach Handwriting Scheme and website, children are taught the letter names. Some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics. 

A myth which seems to have become popular, since the introduction of phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. The Independent review of the teaching of early reading, final report, Jim Rose March 2006 states:

“The teaching of letter names is often left until after the sounds of the letters have been learned, in the belief that it can be confusing for children to have to learn both together. However, research indicates that children often learn letter names earlier than they learn letter sounds and that five year olds who know more letter names also know more letter sounds. The reasons for this are not fully understood by researchers’.

Given that children will meet many instances outside, as well as within, their settings and schools where letter names are used, it makes sense to teach them within the programme of early phonic work.

It appears that the distinction between a letter name and a letter sound is easily understood by the majority of children.” (Page 26)

Rose, cites Professor Morag Stuart who suggests that:

‘…children expect things to have names and are accustomed to rapidly acquiring the names of things.’ (Independent review of the teaching of early reading’ final report, Jim Rose March 2006, page 27.)

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. 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.

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.

One of the first things we like a child to be able to write correctly is their name, however most names are impossible to spell using the simple phonics code taught to young children. A name does not have to be long in length to be phonetically difficult to spell such as Christopher or Charlotte. Shorter names such as Lucy or Liam also cause a problem. 

The only logical answer I suggest is to use the letter names until a child has been introduced to the more complex phonics coding system. 

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

grapheme chart keyboard

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): bit.ly/2bUtZae

What are CVC Words?

VC Letters 1

The letter C means a consonant letter is required.

The letter V means that a vowel letter is required.

So, a CVC word is one that has a consonant letter followed by a vowel and then a consonant as in the following examples:

cat    dog    mat

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet and these can be split in to two categories:

Vowels – ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’ and the letter ‘y’, when it is used as a semi-vowel, in words such as by, my and fly.

Consonants – ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘f’, ‘g’, ‘h’, ‘j’, ‘k’, ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘r’, ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘v’, ‘w’, ‘x’, ‘z’ and the letter ‘y’ when it is being used as a consonant, in words such as yak, yam and yellow.

Schools will often use the abbreviation CV, CVC, CVCC words when sending home phonics work or suggestions for phonics games. It is also used by many phonics computer games, activity programs and schemes.

Here are some examples for:

CV & VC CVC CVCC
as bat lamp
at cat milk
be dog tent
by fog hump
he hot band
if pig tilt
in peg want
is lap pond
it mop jump
me net just
my put nest
no but send
on set went
so tap wind
to zig bend

 

Letter & Sound Relationships That Break the Phonics Rules

Back in September we explained that Phonics is very useful as a decoding tool used for developing reading skills and an encoding tool for spelling. It is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phonemes) to letter combinations (graphemes) there are.
Some letter and sound associations just don’t follow the normal phonics rule of a single sound being associated to a letter or letter combination. A few letters represent two sounds, such as the letter ‘u’ which in the word ‘cupid’ represents the two sounds /y,(j)/ and /oo,(uː)/.
A more common one letter two sound relation is that of the letter ‘x’ representing the two sounds /k,(k)/ and /s,(s)/ as in the words: six and box. Here are some other examples of single letters and split digraphs making two sounds instead of the usual phonics rule of only making one sound:

More than 1 sound 1

Accents and Phonics

Bath - phonics section

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 which means there are always 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.

For example, in the South of England the letter ‘a’ can be pronounced as the ‘long ’R’ controlled’ vowel sound /ar,(ɑː)/ in words such as ‘grass’ and ‘bath’ whereas in the North of England it will be pronounced as the ‘short’ vowel /a,(æ)/ sound in these two words.

Click bit.ly/1Qgc9dA and then scroll down the page to see the animations of the different pronunciations of the word ‘bath’.

Both pronunciations are correct, which 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.

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 relationship basis.

The ‘Long’ Vowel Sounds

Long Vowel Sounds 1

A couple of weeks ago we explained that there are 20 vowel sounds in the English (UK) sound system and last week we looked at the 7 ‘short’ vowel sounds. This week we are taking a look at the remaining 13 ‘long’ vowel sounds.

Here at Teach Phonics we split them in to two groups: 7 ‘long’ vowel sounds and 6 ‘long ‘R’ controlled’ vowel sounds.

The 7 ‘long’ vowel sounds are so called due to the length of their pronunciation; these can often be held without distorting their sound.

 The /ai,(eI)/ sound found in the words: train, tray, cake and break.

The /oa,(ǝƱ)/ sound found in the words: boat, hotel, toe and bone.

The /oi,(ɔI)/ sound found in the words: boy, coin and buoy.

The /ow,(aƱ)/ sound found in the words: owl, house, drought and hour.

The /ee,(іː)/ sound found in the words: tree, pea, me, and pony.

The /I,(aI)/ sound found in the words: iron, fly, pie and light.

The /oo,(uː)/ sound found in the words: spoon, blue, screw and you.

The 6 ‘long ‘R’ controlled’ vowel sounds are so called because of the slight /r,(r)/ sound quality that can be heard in them along with the length of their pronunciation; these can often be held without distorting their sound.

The /ar,(ɑː)/ sound found in the words: car, father (southern UK accent) and art.

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

The /ear,(Iǝ)/ sound found in the words: ear, here, deer and pier.

The /er,(ɜː)/ sound found in the words: bird, kerb, nurse and worm.

The /re,(Ʊǝ)/ sound found in the words: manure, tour and mature.

The /air,(eǝ)/ sound found in the words: chair, pear, square and where.