Confusingly for children, and their teachers, there are 26 letters in the alphabet but 44 phonemes (sounds). When we teach children to read, we start with the sounds letters make rather than their names.
Confusingly for children, and their teachers, there are 26 letters in the alphabet but 44 phonemes (sounds). When we teach children to read, we start with the sounds letters make rather than their names. The letter ‘a’ is taught like the a in cat. The letter i usually makes an /i/ sound as in igloo. But the i phoneme, the i sound, can also be made in the following ways:
To make matters worse, the letter i can make other sounds, too, like pint, and combined with other letters can make yet more: friend, rain. That’s why we teach children the most common sounds to begin with, so ‘a’ as in cat, ‘e’ as in egg, ‘i’ as in igloo, ‘o’ as in octopus and ‘u’ as in umbrella.
To help children who are getting to grips with letter sounds, you can try to teach letter sounds at a different time to the alphabet if you can (see learning the alphabet). Start by teaching the sounds themselves, without making a connection to the printed letter. For example, what sound does ‘dinosaur’ start with? Or Play I Spy but with letter sounds not names. Later, you can use flashcards to show the letter and ask your child to make the associated sound (although you’ll need to dress this one up somehow since it is essentially quite a dull thing to do.)
Try also to say the pure phoneme and not add ‘uh’ to the end. So it’s ‘d’ instead of ‘duh’. Easier said than done! Once children know the sounds letters make, they can break unfamiliar words down into their constituent sounds, spell them out and start to read!