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:
Yesterday I shared a link to an article “Language unlocks reading: supporting early language and reading for every child” (https://literacytrust.org.uk/…/al…/language-unlocks-reading/) which highlights the importance of developing a child’s vocabulary.
Here at Teach Phonics we are always saying how important speaking, listening and vocabulary building is for all children. As I commented yesterday if a child does not hear or use a wide range of words they cannot develop their phonics skills. A child needs to experience a wide variety of word so they can learn how to make and use all the sounds required in the English language. This doesn’t happen by chance it has to be experienced and taught.
Spring and all that we often associate with this time of year is upon us: lambs, chicks and new life. This in turn prompted memories of singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’, with my own children. A strange connection; maybe!
But, maybe not! Through the making of animal noises and the repetition of the ‘e i e i o’ refrain the girls were learning to play with sounds. Through the song they were learning how to make sounds through changing their mouth shape, the position of their tongue and controlling their breathing.
When they couldn’t make a particular animal noise we just moved to the next animal on the farm, because it is a fun song, so no pressure. Next time we sang the song, the animals were still all included and over time they learnt to make all the animal sounds. Which, by happy coincidence, are the same sounds (phonemes) needed in our everyday speech.
The great thing about Old MacDonald and his farm is that he also has tractors, a quad bike and depending on where he lives even a helicopter. The list of vehicles and additional animals is endless, especially if he opens up his own zoo next to the farm!
Old MacDonald and other nursery rhymes/songs all help to build and teach a child how to make the sounds required for pronouncing words. They offer a child the opportunity to practice making sounds which they may otherwise have no experience of in their normal everyday life. They will store this sound making information for later use as they mature and extend their vocabulary, which in turn supports their phonics knowledge, which impacts on their reading ability.
Phonics is actually stage 8 of the 10 distinct and progressive stages of phonological awareness development.
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 children 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 children 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 children are 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.
Scientists 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.
The Phonological Awareness Stages on our website (http://bit.ly/2FMnYsS) are set in a developmental order from one to ten. Against each stage we have provided an age range guide based on research, which shows when most children develop the various phonological awareness skills. Clicking on a stage will take you to another page which gives more in-depth information and links to help you support children through the stage.
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 here 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.
There are 7 ‘short vowel’ sounds, although children are usually only introduced to the 5 which are most commonly heard in simple CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words: /a,(æ)/ in cat, /e,(e)/ in peg, /i,(I)/ in pin, /o,(ɒ)/ in hot, /u,(ʌ)/ in bus.
The other two ‘short vowel’ sounds are: /oo(u),(Ʊ)/ in bull or could and /uh,(ǝ or schwa)/ heard as the final sound in the words: zebra, doctor and corner.
Our ‘Short Vowel’ Finger Chant can help you, and your child, to learn and remember the 7 ‘short vowel’ sounds: https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/free-resources-phonics.html
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.
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