What letter sounds should I teach first?

Suppose your child knows her ABC’s.  How do you start teaching letter sounds?  With vowels?  With consonants?  In ABC order?

Child seeing letter on dog's collarThe English alphabet includes 26 letters, of which 16 letters, almost always make the same sound.  If you begin teaching letter sounds using those letters there are advantages for your child.

  • These 16 letters follow rules for the sounds they represent.  A ”B,” for example, always sounds like a “B.”  An “M” always sounds like an “M.”  This predictability is reassuring to children who are deciphering the alphabet sound code.
  • Whether those 16 letters come at the beginning of a word, or in the middle, or at the end, the child can identify a consistent sound.  The “N” in “not” sounds the same as the “n” in “pencil” and the “n” in “pan.”  Compare that to a “Y” which has one sound at the beginning of words (such as “yo-yo”) and multiple sounds at the end of words (“party,” “boy” and “buy”) or no sound at the end of words (“day” and “key”).

It makes sense to begin by teaching letter sounds that follow rules.  It also makes sense to begin with letters that have meaning to the child.  If the child’s name is Pranavi, start by teaching the letter sound “P.”  If the child’s brother’s name is Bhavik, teach the “B” sound.

If the child can remember a particular letter with a particular word, the child can go to that special word to compare new words for sound.  “Z” is for zoo is great, but if the child’s brother’s name is Zachary, then “Z” is for Zachary might be more meaningful, and so more easily remembered.

The 16 letters that almost always make the same sound are B D F H J K L M N P Q[u] R T V X and Z.

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