Phonics and sound patterns — What everyone must know

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    By understanding phonics patterns and various rules, young readers can gain a quicker grasp of the English language. Here’s what to know.

    English is a rather simple language. There is only a small portion of words that contain unusual spellings and correspondences between their letters and sounds. This means that learning letter-sound relationships and combining sounds to form whole words allows one to read almost any text in English perfectly.

    Being simple as this is especially important for new language learners like children. Namely, young students can concentrate on understanding what they read while decoding words by transforming spelling into speech sounds. All this comes down to phonics and sound patterns. As such, allow us to explain a bit more about how they work.

    What are sound patterns, and why do we need to learn about them?

    When teaching children to read, they need to understand how to connect word sounds to sounds that each letter represents. In the case of the English language, the pronunciation of words strongly depends on letter sounds, as they phonetically make up a word. Therefore, we come in contact with sound patterns that help us with rhyming and decoding which controls and, if done correctly, improves the reading skills of young spellers.

    What are phonics and how they impact reading, literacy, and phonemic awareness

    The term “phonics” describes the understanding of letter sounds and the ability to use that understanding in decoding printed words. Without understanding them, we can’t say that someone is a proficient reader or is, in fact, literate. On the other hand, we have the term phonological awareness. We use it to describe a person’s capacity to both recognize and manipulate the sounds present in spoken, oral language.

    As such, we can say that phonics refer to written language, while phonological awareness applies to spoken language. Although both of these play a significant role and frequently interact to support the development of reading skills, they are separate entities in linguistics. First-grade or even third-grade children may have issues with one, but not the other.

    For instance, a child with phonological awareness (more particularly, phonemic awareness) issues is unable to blend letter sounds to make words. Opposite to that, a child who can blend sounds orally without difficulty but mispronounces vowel teams (letters), misreading pit for pet and set for sit, has a phonological issue.

    The top rules to know about phonics and sound patterns

    For children to thrive with spelling patterns, we can teach them various rules. There are many of these, however, we’ve opted to list twelve of the most important ones that will make teaching reading a much easier task for both you and your child. So, check these phonics patterns out.

    Vowels and syllables

    There must be at least one vowel sound in each syllable of every phrase. As in the words uniform (u-niform) and animal (a-nimal), a vowel can stand alone in a syllable. Consonants can also be used to surround it, as in the words napkin (nap-kin) and fantastic (fan-tas-tic).

    Long vowel and short vowel sounds
    Vowels can produce a variety of sounds. Depending on where they appear in a word, they make different sounds. If the vowel is followed by a consonant, the vowel is short, like in the word got. However, if there’s no following consonant, the vowel is long, as in the word go.

    Silent E

    Sometimes referred to as the magic E, the silent E rule is all about the letter E giving power to the vowel that comes before it. It’s only effective when there are two vowels in a word and the E is the last letter. For example, the word sale has two vowels—A and E—and the E is at the end of the word, which, in turn, allows the A to make a long sound.

    Digraphs and consonant blends

    When teaching phonics, we come across digraphs. It refers to two consonants working together to create a new sound, like in the word chap. The C and H combine, making that new sound. On the other hand, there’s consonant blends. They refer to two or more consonants that work together, but retain their individual sounds, like in the word grasp which has pairs of G and R and S and P.

    Vowel digraphs

    Vowel digraphs present vowels that stand next to each other. The first remains long while the second is silent. An example of this would be words like boat or paint.

    R-controlled vowels

    A vowel in a syllable followed by an R creates a new sound thanks to the R. Some examples are car and hurt.

    Difference between K and CK

    One-syllable words that end with K after a short vowel—duck or trick—are spelled with CK. However, if the K follows a consonant, long vowel sound, or a diphthong, the word is spelled with K.

    The J and TCH sounds

    When a J sound follows a short vowel in one-syllable words, the spelling is DGE, like in words hedge or dodge. Similarly, when a TCH is in a short vowel word, the spelling is TCH, as in catch.

    The ING ending

    Words with a silent E drop that E and add ING—bike turns into biking. The same goes for other suffixes with vowels, such as ED, ER, ABLE, and OUS.

    Doubling

    If one short vowel is followed by one consonant in a single-syllable word like win, we double that consonant before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel. Example—winner.

    Plurals

    Most words are made plural with an s. However, to create a plural when a word ends in S, SH, CH, X, or Z, we add the letter E, as in schools, brushes, and foxes.

    The fizzle rule

    After a short vowel at the end of a one-syllable word, the letters F, S, Z, and L are doubled. Stuff, grass, fuzz, and shell are just a few examples with bus and quiz as exceptions.

    Teach phonics with text to speech

    Teaching phonics skills can be hard work, especially with struggling readers with dyslexia. However, it’s not an impossible task. With the help of assistive technology like text-to-speech software, you give out reading instructions and help your pupils pick up new words, pronunciations, and most other aspects of linguistics with little to no fuss.

    Besides understanding letter patterns, prefixes, and high-frequency words (sight words), Speechify can help students with reading comprehension via its text highlighting feature. It also works with various grade levels, small group reading interventions, and is available on all popular platforms like iOS, Android, and Windows for phonics programs to utilize.

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.

    Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify

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