When a child knows the proper sounds of the alphabet letters, he or she can use those sounds to sound out or decode a word. This skill is essential for successful phonics instruction later on. The more accurately the sounds are taught to children, the easier it will be for them to learn to read and spell. Study the videos and chart on this page to learn the correct pronunciations of the letter sounds.
There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, each of which has a name and at least one sound. It is the sounds of these letters (not their names) that we blend together to form words.
NOTE: At this point, it is much more important for your child to know the sounds of the letters than their names. Knowledge of the letter names will be very useful for spelling, but we are not there yet! Reading precedes spelling!
There are over one million words in the English language, and at least 600,000 of them can be sounded out phonetically.
The five most common vowel sounds are also known as the short vowels: A (as in apple), E (as in egg), I (as in it), O (as in odd), and U (as in up).
All the vowel sounds are continuant sounds, said “long and loud,” which means that you draw them out for two full seconds.
The consonants are the other 21 letters in the alphabet aside from the vowels: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, and Z.
There are two types of consonant sounds: stop sounds and continuant sounds.
- Stop sounds are also called “quick and quiet” sounds. Letters making these sounds are: B, C, D, G, H, J, K, P, and T. They have a sharp ending, with the sound stopping abruptly.
- Continuant sounds are also called “long and loud” sounds. Letters making these sounds are: F, L, M, N, Q, R, S, V, W, X, Y, and Z. Hold these sounds out for two full seconds.
We have a special way of writing the letter sounds, so that you (the adult) know when you should say the name of the letter and when you should say the letter sound.
The stop (quick and quiet) sounds are written as a single letter between two slashes. For example, /b/ or /g/. Because these sounds are quieter and short, you may have to say them multiple times for children to hear. So we will sometimes instruct you to say “/b/ /b/ /b/,” meaning you should make the /b/ sound three times in quick succession.
The continuant (long and loud) sounds are usually written as three letters between two slashes. For example: /mmm/ or /zzz/. This is to remind you that continuant sounds should be held for two full seconds.
Many of our Phonemic Awareness games require you to say two sounds or word parts with a pause in between. We write that pause with a bullet mark (•). One bullet mark represents a half-second pause. So, “/mmm/ • /at/” is the word mat split by a half-second pause. Likewise, “/d/ • • • /og/” is the word dog with a 1.5-second pause in the middle.
5. Easier and Harder Sounds
The continuant (long and loud) sounds – F, L, M, N, Q, R, S, V, W, X, Y, and Z – are easier for children to hear than the stop (quick and quiet) sounds.
NOTE: A lot of children get confused because the lower-case letters b and d look so similar. As you start using phoneme cards (with individual letters) in the Phonemic Awareness games, we strongly recommend that you not show the d card until much later. Let the child develop a deep familiarity with the letter b; until then, you can reference d as simply “not b.” It is much better to simply separate out the introduction of these two letters.
6. Sound Pronunciation Chart
Print out this sound pronunciation chart to use as a reference when teaching your child. It will remind you of the proper pronunciations of the letter sounds.
Watch this short video for a refresher on the letter pronunciations!
8. Letter Sounds with Kids
If you are careful to model the correct phoneme pronunciations for your children, they will absorb that knowledge and have a head start on being able to sound out words. As your child nears the end of our Phonemic Awareness curriculum, quiz her occasionally on the letter sounds, as in this video below.