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Part 1- Vowels and consonants

Information is provided about consonants and vowels, starting with simple short vowels and progressing to long vowels, vowel digraphs and split vowel digraphs.

Part 1: Vowels and consonants

 

Phonetics is the study of the sounds of human speech. Part of that study involves the vowels and consonants. It is extremely complicated and it is different to phonics. With phonics, the aim is to use aspects of phonetics to help make it easier for children who are learning to read and write. In this section, the aim is to provide enough simple knowledge and guidance to enable teachers and parents to help their children.

 

Vowels and consonants

 

The English writing system uses 26 letters – the letters of the alphabet – to represent the 44 sounds of English. This means that some sounds have to be represented by two or more letters. Five of the 26 letters are vowels – ‹a, e, i, o, u› – and the rest are consonants. The letter ‹y› is an unusual letter because it can be a consonant or a vowel.

 

Short vowels

 

A single vowel letter is usually known as a short vowel. The short vowels are those heard in words like lad, egg, pink, hot and bump: /a, e, i, o, u/. The letter ‹y›, as explained in Step 4, sometimes takes the place of the letter ‹i›, and then it takes on the sounds of that letter. So when ‹y› replaces the short vowel, it has an /i/ sound, as can be heard in words like pyramid, myth, symbol, cyst and system.

 

Other vowels

 

Usually, two letters or more are needed to make the other vowel sounds. These letters are often both vowels as, for example, in the main spellings of these vowel sounds: /ai/, /ee/, /ie/, /oa/, /ue/, /ou/, /oi/, /oo/ and /oo/. However, sometimes a vowel sound is represented by a vowel and consonant(s): for example, in the main spellings of /or/, /er/ and /ar/, and also in the alternative spellings ‹ow› (for /ou/ and /oa/), ‹aw› and ‹al› (for /or/), and ‹igh› (for /ie/).

 

Long vowels

 

The letter sounds /ai, ee, ie, oa, ue/ are known as the long vowels. Two vowel letters are usually needed to provide the long vowel sound and they are often next to each other. The second vowel influences the first vowel and changes its short vowel sound to its long one [demonstration], hence the well-known saying: When two vowels go walking, the first does the talking. As mentioned earlier, the letter ‹y› is unusual in that it sometimes takes the place of the letter ‹i›, as in my, try, fly, sty, cry and reply. In these examples, ‹y› is replacing the letter ‹i›’s long vowel sound: /ie/.

 

There is another sound linked to the letter ‹y›, when it comes at the end of two-syllable words like empty, jolly, frosty and rusty. Here it has an /ee/ sound, although in some accents it is closer to a short /i/ sound, which is probably the way it is meant to be pronounced [demonstration]. Even so, over the years, the pronunciation for most people has changed to the long vowel sound /ee/. The children easily adjust to this difference, according to their accent.

 

There are five spellings of the long vowels that do not have the two vowels next to each other: ‹a_e›, ‹e_e›, ‹i_e›, ‹o_e› and ‹u_e›. In these spellings, there is a consonant between the vowels, as can be seen in the words brave, theme, prize, nose and cube. They are known as hop-over-e digraphs, magic ‹e›, or split digraphs, as explained in Step 4. It helps the children to think of the letter(s) between the vowels as a wall. In the word hoped, for example, the single letter ‹p› only provides a thin wall, and so the magic from the ‹e› can easily get over and change the /o/ to /oa/. However, the ‹pp› in hopped creates a wall wide enough to stop the magic and so the letter ‹o› keeps its short vowel sound, /o/ [demonstration]. Usually, the magic vowel is an ‹e›, but other vowel letters can work in the same way, as in mobile, liking and usual (in these words, the magic vowel in bold changes the short sound of the underlined vowel into its long sound).

 

  • Words ending in 'y' with an /ee/ sound

    This is a useful set of words for blending practice. Care should be taken to give the children only the words that use the letter sounds that have been taught.

  • Words ending in 'y' with an /ee/ sound - print letters

    This is a useful set of words for blending practice. Care should be taken to give the children only the words that use the letter sounds that have been taught.

  • CRE Spelling Rules Booklet

    These pages can be downloaded and made into a booklet. On some printers each page has to be printed one at a time and back-to-back.

  • Words ending in 'er'.

    This is a useful set of words for blending practice. Care should be taken to give the children only the words that use the letter sounds that have been taught.

  • Words ending in 'er' - print letters

    This is a useful set of words for blending practice. Care should be taken to give the children only the words that use the letter sounds that have been taught.

  • Words ending in '-le'.

    This is a useful set of words for blending practice. Care should be taken to give the children only the words that use the letter sounds that have been taught.

  • Words ending in '-le' - print letters

    This is a useful set of words for blending practice. Care should be taken to give the children only the words that use the letter sounds that have been taught.