The Letter Sounds

The English language has 26 letters in its alphabet and most experts believe there are 44 letter sounds  [The experts debate on anywhere between 39 to 45, but most accept 44].  If there were 44 letters in our alphabet, then reading would really be simple! Each letter would have its own sound. However, since there are 44 sounds and only 26 letters, some letters have to make more than one sound. [Note: Before teaching letter sounds, the student should know the alphabet in the correct order. See Teaching The Alphabet.]

Ready for the good news? Sixteen letters almost always make the same sound! That means that there are only 10 letters which make more than one sound. The sixteen letters are what we call constant consonants. They can be learned quickly. Then the remaining 10 letters and their various sounds can be learned.

The sixteen constant consonants are:


There are six special letters in this list: F H K P T X. Do you know what is different about them? Try to figure it out. Click here to see if you are right.

There are five more consonants, C G S W Y, and they make more than one sound on a regular basis. Phonics provides the insight to know which sounds these letters make and when.

The five regular vowels, A E I O U, make up the rest of our letter sounds. An easy way to teach children to remember these regular or primary vowels is the sentence: Lady [AE] I [I] owe [O] you [U] some money. Vowels have their own long and short sounds as well as being copycats. The short sound is the normal sound of the vowel.

Before we go on, we should note that both “W” and “Y” can sometimes act as vowels, as well as consonants. They can be very versatile letters!

Some programs present a complicated and unnecessary idea when they refer to the hard and soft sounds of some letters. What is a hard or soft sound? Letter sounds are not hard or soft and it makes learning to read unnecessarily difficult. For example, some people talk about the hard or soft sound of “C.” It is much easier to say that “C” sometimes copies “S” and sometimes copies “K.” Then the very simple rule needs to be given explaining when to know which letter “C” is going to copy. This is a very important rule since “C” is in about 25% of English words. “C,” by the way, is the only letter which has no sound of its own. It is a true copycat.

It is important, after the student has mastered the main letter sounds, to make sure they know all the sounds a letter can make. For example, did you know the letter “A” actually makes 9 sounds [or to be exact - 8 sounds and it can be silent]. See how many you can figure out before you click here to see the "A's" letter sounds.

Sometimes an emphasis is placed on blended sounds. Actually, most blended sounds will come naturally as a person sounds out the individual letter sounds and puts them together. Also, breaking longer words into syllables is helpful.

At Academic Associates Vernon and the world, we teach all the sounds of the letters and the phonetic rules that go with them. This is done in easy steps so the reading comes almost automatically. Sign up for our complete reading program now.

Return to Reading Home Page.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.