When you are learning how to teach your child to read, you need to familiarize yourself with a few words. If you read widely about reading, you will encounter these words all the time. But even if you don’t, understanding them will make reading instruction easier to follow.
One such word is “phonemes.” The smallest sounds we utter are called phonemes. About 48 such small sounds exist in standard American English. These sounds are not letters; they are sounds to which we pair letters in order to read and pronounce sounds. Some words such as eye have one phonemes (a long ī), but most words have two or more phonemes. Snow, for example, has three (s, n, ō). Putting together phonemes to form words is an important reading skill.
Another important word is “phonics.” Phonics means combining phonemes to form words. For example, the phonemes b, ă, and t combine to form the word bat. 250 letter patterns represent the 42 to 44 phonemes in American English. Most children cannot figure out phonics on their own. They need instruction to match a phoneme to a letter or to a pair of letters.
systematic phonics instruction
Systematic means that concepts are taught in a particular order. For example, phonemes which are always represented by a single letter such as b are taught before phonemes which are represented by more than one letter such as th. Short vowel words such as cat are taught before long vowel words such as bike.
For more details on the sequencing of learning sounds, go to http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200901/BTJPhonologicalAwareness.pdf. While you are there, check out 1) the list of read-aloud books that emphasize sounds, and 2) activities you can do with a child who is learning sounds.
A vowel is the primary speech phoneme in every syllable (one vowel phoneme for one syllable). Vowel phonemes are made by the mouth without any blockage by the tongue or lips. Short vowel phonemes are the vowel sounds in Pat, Ben, Jill, Tom, and Bud. They are sometimes represented by a curve over the vowel. Long vowel phonemes are the vowel sounds in Kate, Eve, Mike, Joe, and Lou. They are sometimes represented by a straight horizontal line over the vowel. Other vowel sounds are also represented by a, e, i, o, and u, and by combinations of these letters. W and y can also be vowel phonemes in combination with other vowels or alone as in cow and by.
short and long vowels
Short and long are a traditional way to describe certain vowel sounds. Short vowel sounds can be said quicker while long vowel sounds take a fraction of a second longer to pronounce. In recent years, the terms closed and open are used the same way to mean, respectively, short and long.
A consonant is a speech sound made by partially blocking the air as you breathe out. Most phonemes are consonants, but they cannot be pronounced without connecting them to vowels. American English includes the consonant phonemes b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, qu, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, and z.
Syllables are units of sound containing one vowel phoneme and usually one or more consonant phonemes. Mitten has two syllables: mit and ten. Robotics has three syllables: ro, bo, and tics.
Knowing these terms gives you a basic vocabulary enabling you to follow instruction about reading.