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phonics terminology

01 Phonics Terminology

In the realm of literacy development, one cannot underestimate the power of phonics terminology. The understanding of phonics, with its intricate web of sounds and letters, is the key that unlocks a world of reading and language mastery. It is the foundation upon which strong reading skills are built, enabling individuals to decode words with accuracy, pronounce them with confidence, and comprehend texts with depth. In this era of information overload, possessing a firm grasp of phonics terminology empowers learners to navigate the vast sea of written language, empowering them to become skilled communicators and lifelong learners. Join us as we delve into the realm of phonics, unveiling the secrets to unlocking the magic of words and harnessing the true potential of literacy.

Alphabet

The English alphabet is a set of letters used to represent the sounds of the English language. It originated from the Latin alphabet, which was brought to England by Christian missionaries in the 7th century.

 

The modern English alphabet comprises 26 letters, each with its own unique sound or sounds. Its purpose is to provide a standardized way to represent spoken language in written form, enabling effective communication and literacy. Each letter plays a crucial role in forming words, which are the building blocks of written and spoken language.

 

The alphabet's significance lies in its role as the foundation of literacy and education, serving as the fundamental tool for teaching reading, writing, and language skills. Through the combination of these letters, words are formed, allowing for the expression of complex thoughts and ideas, and facilitating communication on a global scale.

Alphabet
English alphabet
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Vowels

English vowels are speech sounds produced without any significant constriction or closure in the vocal tract. In English, there are five main vowel letters: A, E, I, O, and U. However, there are more vowel sounds than there are vowel letters due to the influence of surrounding letters.

 

English vowels can be short or long, and they are a crucial part of the English language as they form the core of syllables and words and play a significant role in differentiating between words and conveying meaning.

Vowels
English vowels
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Consonants

Consonants are speech sounds produced by obstructing or restricting the flow of air through the vocal tract. Unlike vowels, which are produced without significant constriction in the vocal tract, consonants involve some form of closure or narrowing in the mouth, throat, or nasal passage.

 

Consonants play a crucial role in forming syllables and words and are essential for conveying meaning in language. They are classified based on various articulatory features such as voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation. Examples of consonants include /b/, /t/, /s/, and /m/.

Consonants

Synthetic Phonics

Synthetic phonics, a proven method utilized by FootStep Phonics, effectively teaches children to read and spell by breaking words into individual sounds (phonemes) and then blending them together.

 

Educational research across the English-speaking world has demonstrated that synthetic phonics is the most efficient approach for fostering proficient readers. This approach is now mandated in primary schools in the UK, and several states in the USA, where many have adopted the Phonics Screening Check to assess students' progress.

Synthetic Phonics

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness, a crucial aspect of phonological awareness which encompasses understanding the sound structure of words, involves the conscious recognition of phonemes – the tiniest sound units within spoken words.

 

It is widely acknowledged as a key indicator for future proficiency in reading and spelling, serving as an essential foundation for mastering phonics in reading instruction.

Phonemic Awareness

Cognitive Load

Cognitive load, which refers to the level of information processing required to accomplish a learning task, is a key concept in Cognitive Load Theory. This theory, pioneered by educational psychologist John Sweller, holds significant importance in the teaching of phonics.

When a task surpasses a child's working memory capacity, leading to an excessively high cognitive load, it can result in frustration for the child. Therefore, as educators, it is imperative to adapt phonics lessons in a way that prevents children from being overwhelmed by excessive information and ensures that new concepts are effectively retained in their long-term memory.

Cognitive Load

Phonemes

The English language consists of 44 phonemes, each denoted by specific graphemes enclosed within forward slashes, for example, /ar/ as seen in the word 'car'.

 

Recognizing the graphemes, whether single letters or combinations, that signify a phoneme marks the initial stage of mastering the FootStep Phonics program.

Phonemes

Graphemes

A grapheme, which is a written symbol representing a phoneme or sound, can take the form of a single letter or a combination of letters like ea, ch, igh, tch, and more.

For instance, when a child vocalizes the sound /s/, it represents a phoneme; however, when they write the letter 's', it becomes a grapheme.

Graphemes
Phoneme chart
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Digraphs

Digraphs are pairs of letters that represent a single sound. They work together to create a unique sound that is different from what each individual letter would make on its own.

 

For example, the "sh" in "ship" or the "ch" in "chat" are both phonics digraphs. In these examples, the "sh" and "ch" create a single sound, rather than the individual sounds of /s/ and /h/, or /c/ and /h/.

Understanding digraphs helps children decode and pronounce words more effectively as they learn to read and write.

Digraphs
Consonant digraphs
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Split Digraphs

A split digraph is a pair of letters that work together to represent a single sound, but with other letters in between them.

 

The most common split digraphs are "a-e," "e-e," "i-e," "o-e," and "u-e." For example, in the word "cake," the "a-e" split digraph represents the long /a/ sound, and in the word "bike," the "i-e" split digraph represents the long /i/ sound. 

Split Digraph

Trigraphs

A trigraph is a group of three consecutive letters that together represent a single sound. Trigraphs are formed when three letters come together to create a unique sound that is different from the individual sounds of the letters.

 

Common trigraphs include "igh" in "night," "dge" in "edge," and "tch" in "catch." These trigraphs create distinct sounds that are not produced by any single letter in the English alphabet. 

Trigraph
Consonant trigraphs
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Blends

Phonics blends are combinations of two or more consonant sounds that appear together in a word. These blends are formed when each consonant retains its original sound, but the sounds are blended together to produce a new sound. For example, in the word "blender," the "bl" blend is formed by blending the sounds of the letters 'b' and 'l'.

Blends
Consonant blends
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Diphthongs

Diphthongs are complex speech sounds that begin with one vowel sound and glide into another within the same syllable. Diphthongs are essential in English phonetics and play a significant role in the pronunciation of words. Learning diphthongs is crucial for English language learners as they significantly impact the accuracy and fluency of spoken English.

Diphthongs
Vowel diphthongs
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