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.

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 6

Phonics Assessment Pages

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is understanding;

  • That the same letter can look different, for example, a lower case letter ‘b’ looks different from a capital letter ‘B’. Letters will also look different depending on which font type is being used or if it is handwritten, for example, an Arial font letter ‘g’ looks different from a Calibri font ‘g’.
  • That letters have names and the same name is used for that letter even when they look different, so the lower case letter ‘a’ and its capital letter form ‘A’ are both called ‘ay’.
  • That letters (graphemes) are used to represent sounds (phonemes) in words. Teaching the unique letter names of the alphabet is an important pre-phonics skill. A letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their unique names.

Developing Letter Knowledge:

Through Play:

  • Sorting and Matching Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards; can they group all the lower case letters together, or all the capital letters or all the different letter ‘ay’s together.
  • Kim’s Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards use a few letters at a time, place 5 to 10 on a tray and let your child look at them and talk through which letters are there. Cover with a tea towel and ask your child to look away, then remove 1 or 2 of the letters. Then ask your child to look back and remove the tea towel. Can they spot which letters are missing.
  • Detective Games – focus on identifying individual letters of the alphabet and naming them, this can be played at home or when out and about.
  • Leap Frog – use the letters of the alphabet on home-made paper lily pads. Use the letter names to identify the target lily pad for your child to either jump onto or to throw a bean bag/soft toy on to.
  • Skittles and Throwing Games – use letters of the alphabet on the targets and use the letter names as a way of identifying which of the targets your child is aiming for.

Through Drawing/Writing:

  • Making lists of things to do, or a shopping list. Their version of the list may be just squiggles and dots (so don’t rely on this for your shopping trip) but it is the beginning. I would keep the list and get them to tick off things done or items purchased as part of the experience so that it has a genuine purpose (children really like this).
  • Making and drawing their own story book.
  • Learning to writing letters correctly – see our Teach handwriting Website: http://bit.ly/1dqBYFm

 Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes:

  • Singing Alphabet Song, try singing it to different tunes.
  • Make up Your Own Rap – point to the letters as the rap is said.

Through Talk:

  • Talk about letters as being shapes made up of straight, curves and diagonal lines.
  • Look at the letters in your child’s name, talk about the fact that the first letter in their name is always a capital letter and that normally the other letters are lower case letters.
  • Point out especially for slightly older children that lower case letters are about half the size of the capital letters.
  • Compare letters looking at what is the same and different about them.
  • When taking about letters use the letter name as well as the sound it is making in the word, remember a letter is often used to represent more than one sound. The letter ‘a’ can be used to represent different sounds in the following words: ant, apron, was, and any (just 4 of the eight sounds it is used to represent).

Through Book Sharing:

What Books to choose?

  • Books with shapes
  • Books where you have to find things (like I spy)
  • Alphabet books
  • Books which use different font styles in the pictures and text.

Book Sharing Tips:

  • Alphabet books do not need to be read from cover to cover. Let your child choose which letters they want to look at.
  • Trace the letters with your finger or let your child trace it (make sure you trace the letter using the correct formation orientation, encourage your child to do the same).
  • Talk about the pictures in alphabet books before focusing on the letter, its name and the sound it can make.
  • Show your child the first letter in their name and then look for that letter in the book.
  • Show and talk about how some letters are in their capital form and others in their lower case form. Can they find other examples of the letters?
  • Choose two letters to talk about: How do they look alike? How do they look different? What shapes/line styles are they made up of?

To Play is to Learn

There has been a lot in the press recently about the changes the Government are looking to make to the Early Years curriculum, such as a greater influence on teaching phonics, reading and maths skills (Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings Report). It feels as if they are pushing quite advanced skill sets down in to the Early Years. This seems to be going against the ethos of other countries that are often quoted to us as having exemplary Early Years curriculums. These are using and developing more play structured curriculum approaches; such as Finland (children start school at 7 years old).

We are always being shown how important play is in the development of young animals’ survival and hunting skills. How many times have you thought how cute or lovely when watching kittens, puppies or polar bears playing.

Humans are also animals which thrive and develop through play; in fact play is so important the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights state it as a right for every child (Ginsburg, 2013).

Here at Teach Children we see play as a vital part of a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth and well-being.

There has been considerable research over the years on play, which supports our point of view, with the consensus being that children need to experience five different types of play. These five types of play are roughly based on the developmental opportunities they provide, especially if it is child driven rather than adult lead:

Physical Play – active exercise (running, jumping, skipping etc..), rough & tumble and fine motor skills activities to develop whole body and hand and eye co-ordination strength and endurance. The outdoor element of such play develops independence, resourcefulness and self-regulation while the fine motor skills activities support the development of concentration and perseverance.

Play with Objects – starts as soon as a child can grasp and hold an object; mouthing, biting, turning, stroking, hitting and dropping. It’s how we all learn through the exploration of our senses (sensory-motor play). This type of play develops our abilities to; physically manipulate items, think, reason and problem solve, to set challenges and goals as well as to monitor our own progress.

Symbolic Play – refers to the development of spoken language, visual symbols such as letters and numbers, music, painting, drawing and other media used for communication of thought and ideas. This type of play allows children to develop the abilities to express and reflect on experience, ideas and emotions. Sound and language play develops phonological awareness required for literacy, while number play that relates to real life situations supports numeracy skills.

Pretence/socio-dramatic Play – Pretend play provides the opportunity to develop cognitive, social, self-regulatory and academic skills. This kind of play means children have to learn and pick up on unspoken rules of interaction, taking on the role of a character and playing within the expected confines of that role.

Games with Rules – physical games such as chase, hide & seek, sport, board and computer games. Develop social skills and the emotional skills of taking turns, winning and losing as well as other people’s perspectives.

(Dr.D Whitebread, 2012)

Here are some articles from home and around the world I thought you may find interesting that support and highlight the importance of play in learning:

Bibliography

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, 25/07/2013; ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’: THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full

Dr.D. Whitebread, April 2012: ‘The Importance of Play’; Commissioned for the Toy Industries of Europe:  http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf

 

 

The Consonant Sounds with Their Most Common Letter and Letter Combinations

 

Bin     Girl

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

What are Graphemes?

Train picture card    Chair picture card

Date Originally Posted: 19/10/17

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’.

What are Phonemes?

Phonics Chart with Phonemes

Date Originally Posted: 12/10/17

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.

Letter Names & Phonics

Phonics Assessment Pages

Date Originally Posted: 14/9/17

As part of our Teach Handwriting Scheme children are taught the letter names. Some schools 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 reason 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.