It’s quite common nowadays to hear around words like “phonics”, “phonetics”, “phoneme” and “phonemic awareness”. Even though they may seem professional and quite scary for some, they actually help us a lot and their name tells us a bit about what they’re all about.

As “phone” always is somehow related to sound (microphone, phone and so on), it’s very normal for anyone to think of sound when using a word like that.

Phonics is linked to teaching children the sound in English words and every time you’re recognizing sounds in words and sentences, you’re closer to becoming literate.

In a nutshell, phonics helps a kid to recognize vowels, consonants and syllables, making it easier for her to read the word. Phonics help a child to sound out words in English, to be more precise.

What is phonics anyway?

Phonics is a strategy to teach reading and writing, by cultivating your child’s phonemic awareness. They are fundamental when it comes to helping children begin to read. The moment the code of reading has been broken with the use of phonics, any kid is going to have the ability to examine the length and breadth of literacy as a whole unit. Long story short, phonics seems to be, still, the most efficient way to help kids reading early.

Why, when and..why?

Many may ask themselves why phonics is important in English and it’s essential to understand that phonics help so much any kid to learn to read and spell. No kid is able to literate without this ability. Words are functioning in the end as codes and phonics are the ones teaching your kid how to break that reading code. They become the most important element of any reading development program.

Best time to start learning to read with the help of phonics is in preschool up to 2nd grade, or you may begin around age 3 to 8.

It’s important to start early as many studies have shown that children who have not developed reading skills by second grade are going to develop difficulties in learning later on in school.

Even though you may not see it, many kids actually begin to learn to read at home and not in school. Teachers are only finishing what has started years before, at home. It seems that parents play an essential role in their kids learning to read and many do better in school if their parents are involved.

Therefore, it’s important for parents to start early the phonic lessons at home, even if it’s only for 20 minutes daily.

Phoneme, phonemic awareness

When you talk about phonics you also have to talk about phoneme, which is the smallest unit of sound that may change entirely the meaning. Let’s see it better in an example. In the word “hat”, we hear 3 distinct phonemes /h/ /a/ /t/. if we’re changing the /h” to a /c/, the meaning of the word is going to change completely /c/ /a/ /t/.

This is why it’s essential for any kid to be able to clearly hear and differentiate phonemes.

The ability to hear and use individual phoneme is known as “phonemic awareness”. The second a child realizes that there are individual sounds or phonemes within the words, the phonemic awareness happens.

We also have to talk about the print awareness that is important when learning to read. As a child understands the use of print, we may talk about the print awareness. Print awareness is always related to the written communication.

The ability to recognize words as separate parts of oral and written communication is also called word awareness. It’s normal for a kid to possess this ability before kindergarten. Print awareness is the big step in enhancing literacy and it’s wise to develop it from preschool.

How to help your kid enhance print awareness?

The expression per say sounds very professional and sophisticated, but there are in fact easy ways to help your kid develop print awareness.

Try to use especially kids books with big letters and bold fonts so that your kid sees better:

  • Show your kid what’s the right natural reading position
  • Ask your child to show you the title of a book
  • Teach your kid all name letter A to Z as it’s essential for teaching her letter sound connection
  • Teach your child about capital letters and small letters
  • Ask your kid to identify letters in words
  • Teach your child about how words are separate units in a sentence
  • It’s important for her to know where a sentence begins and ends. Teach her that too!
  • Show your kid where to begin reading a book
  • Remind your little one that we’re reading from left to wright and top to bottom of a page
  • Let your kid realize that books have numbered pages (most of them, anyway)
  • Observe along with your child that books also have pictures and texts

Phoneme or grapheme?

If the phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that changes meanings, the grapheme is the smallest unit of written language that differentiates meaning.

A grapheme is typically a letter or a symbol and, to get a better idea, note that the letter “a” is a grapheme. On the other hand, the sound (phoneme) the grapheme “a” makes may be “a” as in “attic”.

The big problem in English is that there are 26 letters of the alphabet and more than 44 phonemes. You have to note the difference of “c” from “car” to “ceiling”. Let’s not forget that you may also combine “c” with “h”, getting a different sound, like in “chores”.

Trying to explain it better, we have 26 letters of the alphabet and only letter “y” makes 4 different sounds. You can see it for yourself when you think about words like: “yard”, “gym”, “try” and “baby”. As if this wasn’t enough, letter “y” alone can make consonant and vowel sounds.

Long story short, the letters of the alphabet aren’t that dependable when teaching phonemes, but they’re a part to begin with when it comes to key graphemes and phonemes.

Now you see why phonics count so much?

Vowels and consonant sounds

You also need to tell the difference about vowels and consonants in English.

When you’re pronouncing a sound without stopping the flow of air from your lungs, you’re actually saying a vowel.

The most popular vowel sounds are made by the letters a, e, i, o, u. each of them may become short or long vowels. Play a bit with some words including these vowels in order to realize how you’re pronouncing them.

One thing that is a bit confusing in English is that we only have 5 vowels. The disturbing part is that it’s both true and false at the same time. We do have 6 letters (a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y) that represent vowels, but we do have in fact more than 19 vowel sounds in English!

When you’re partially or entirely closing air coming from your lungs, you’re pronouncing consonants. In order to be easier for you to understand, all the other letters that aren’t a, e, i, o, u are consonants. English has 25 consonant sounds.

Summarizing for the easy conclusion

Let’s take a look at the numbers as all of these numbers may have been confusing for you. English has 26 letters in the alphabet, but they may all be combined to give us around 44 sounds. Out of the 44 sounds, 19 are vowel sounds and 25 are consonant sounds.

Typically, the vowels are represented by the symbols a, e, i, o, u, whereas the consonants are all the other ones. Another tricky part is that letter “y” may be a consonant and vowel sound as well.

Using phonics, we can play with all of these 26 letter and learn the 44 sounds of English (phoneme). Putting together “c” and “h” gives us a new sound, like in “charming”. Want to know more? When you put together 2 letters in order to create a new sound you actually get something called “digraphs”, that may be both consonant or vowels.

This may be the last definition, but it’s also important. A digraph is when you put together two letters in order to create a new sound. Combining “s” and “h” may give us the new sound that you hear in “shoes”.

The most consonants digraphs are: ch (like in chair), th (as in there), ck (as in truck0, sh (as in shy0. We also meet very often vowel digraphs: ee (as in meet), ai (as in pain), oa (as in toast).

The conclusion

English is a tricky language but most specialist agree nowadays that the tricky bits are essential into teaching phonics so that the children learn to read clearly and systematically.

A written language is in fact a cod and teaching phonics is major deal for kids to break this code. You start by teaching your little one the simple parts and then easily go forward as she gets the fun part of the trickier bits later on.

Phonics sessions include games, songs and various activities and they shouldn’t last more than 15-20 minutes per day.

Phonics sessions may be fun and your kid may end up liking a lot, which is great for learning to read.