Hearing the Letters & Sounds

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled is a spark.” ~ Victor Hugo

A child must know the name of the alphabet letters by sight as well as hear their sounds in order to make sense of the reading process.

Most often children learn the alphabet by singing the song. It may be heard online if your child doesn’t know it. Then the child hears the name of each letter.

Having a chart of the alphabet close to the child as he sings, he can point to each letter, so he says the name and sees the symbol or letter.

However, the alphabet letters have both names and sounds that are different from each other and a child must be able to learn both of these and recognize the differences.

Learning the sound of each letter is a bit tricky, but very important. This is how I teach them.


Alphabet Names & Sounds

First I tell the children the alphabet letters have a name and a sound, just like a dog is called a dog. But his sound is ‘bow wow’. A cat is named a cat but its sound is ‘meow’. So the alphabet letters have both a name and a sound. We know the letter names from the song, now we’ll learn the sounds of the letters.

For the letter ‘b’, say its name, for example ‘bee’ and the sound is ‘b’ (without the ‘ee’).

**For other letters that have the ‘ee’ sound at the end of their names, just leave off the ‘ee’ to make the correct sound for that letter. Letters such as b, d, p, t, v, z.

**For letters that have an ‘eh’ sound at the beginning of its name leave off the ‘eh’ sound. For example ‘eh.. f’, the sound would be simply ‘f’. Other similar letter sounds with this pattern are f, m, n, l, s, and x.

**The names of the letters ‘j’ and ‘k’ are like saying ‘j.. ay’ and ‘k..ay’ To hear the actual sound that is different from its name leave off the ‘ay’ sound.


Always Exceptions

Then there are exceptions, always exceptions in the English language!

The letters ‘c’ and ‘g’ have two sounds. The ‘c’ can sound like ‘k’ as in ‘cat’ or ‘s’ as in ‘city’. The letter ‘g’ can sound like ‘g’ as in ‘goat’ or like ‘j’ in ‘gym’. We’ll go over these later but for now it should be sufficient to know these consonant letters have two sounds. At first when teaching these consonants teach the ‘cat’ sound for ‘c’ and the ‘goat’ sound for ‘g’. Later the child will be taught both sounds. More specific instructions on teaching these can be found in my book “Phonics or Fonix”.

The letter y is a consonant when it is the first letter in a word like yes, yarn, yard, yellow, yesterday, etc. It can also be a vowel when it says ‘e’ as in ‘baby’ or the sound of ‘I’ as in ‘fly’.

I help my children to remember the sounds by giving them a desktop alphabet with pictures and keywords on them. This alphabet is printed on regular computer paper landscape, cut apart and glued onto cardboard. I will make these available for you to print, once I know where to send them. I’ll need your name and email address if you request one of these.

I have found from experience this is a fantastic aid for the children to learn the sounds of letters. These pictures help a lot because they are close to the child not up on a wall, and it only takes a quick glance to help them remember the sound. In this way they are building their phonemic awareness and making it solid in their minds.


Rhyming Timing

Another method of teaching phonemic awareness is by playing the rhyming game. Especially in the car, while driving, you probably have their undivided attention, so it’s a good time to play word games with the kids. Say a word and ask them to say a rhyming word. Then you say another and it’s repeated.

Sometimes the word family can be extended to 4 or 5 rhyming words, but to start give a different word each time.

Ask your child how these words are the same. You may have to repeat your word because they would be learning to listen. They should reply that they are the same at the end. So the child becomes more aware of the words we use. Ask the child if he thinks the letters in these words would be the same at the end. They should say ‘yes’.

Also ask for a word that starts the same as…pot, please, play, pack, pill etc. Phonemic awareness is emphasized in this way. Children who have trouble reading often do not have the skill of phonemic awareness very well developed and can’t recognize sounds easily. With practice it gets better and children learn to discriminate sounds in words. Practice is the key.

These word games can be done anywhere, getting dinner ready, getting ready for bed, a bit while waiting for the doctor or dentist, etc. especially while driving because you get the child’s attention one-on-one, no television interference. They only take a few minutes and can stop and start at any time. Yet they are VERY IMPORTANT to practice.


A Phonics Game to Play

“I Wonder What the Word Is”. For this game you say the word ‘cat’ but you must separate each sound out loud as c..a..t.., then ask your child if they know the word. Perhaps you’ll have to say it in parts again until the child can get it. Even if they can’t get it after two or three tries, then you can say the first two letters in a blended way, like ca..t.. Would your child recognize it then?

This activity is very worthwhile since it starts the child in blending letters together. The sooner they learn this skill the closer they are to figuring out new words. Now try it with other words with three letters, i.e. words starting with consonant, then vowel, followed by a consonant. We consider these CVC words. e.g. bed, sad, lip, cup, pot, mud etc

Other alphabet exercises and activities are included in my Phonics Games for Fun Learning book. Be sure to look there for more.


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