In Letter Sounds Language The "o" in "more" is an r- affected vowel. Here Is Why You Should Care. . .

Understanding different types of letter sounds closes a gap in phonics instruction. It's a gap that leaves a good chunk of English readers in the dust. Here is how I stumbled over this surprising connection.

I came across archaic sounding letter classifications in a very old book - The Blue Backed Speller. The text itself could not explain reading to my struggling child. The explanations of these words could and did.

The two types of letters (the archaic sounding ones) were "interrupted consonant" and "semi-vowel". Ho hum until you consider a typical word-family-reading list: look, pool, foot, book, boot, loose, boom, cook. I had a hard time explaining the slight differences in oo sounds between the words. Aha! now these two academic words come into play.

Compare the oo sound before an interrupted consonant ending and a semi-vowel ending. (Feeling smart yet?)

oo before a semi-vowel consonant (sounds that you can
keep saying. ie. nnnnn, or sssss)
  • moon
  • stool
  • loose
  • roof
The oo sound is fairly drawn out.

oo before an interrupted consonant sound (sounds that you can't keep saying ie. "d" and your done. "daaaaa" does not count)

  • book
  • stood
  • root
The oo sound in shorter.

Two seemingly outdated letter sound terms explain the difference in oo sounds. k,d and t are pronounced by shutting off (interrupting) your voice or breath. The resulting short final sound, shortens the middle sound in book, stood and root.

n,l, s, and f are called semi-vowels. (sometimes l is called a liquid.) Your mouth can make a full oo sound and move easily into one of these longer sounds at the end of the word. This is heard in moon, loose etc.

All types of impressive sounding letter sound terms describe primarily what position your mouth is in when you speak a sound. This must impact the sound just before it, and the one your mouth moves into next. There is a list of letter sound types at the end of the page. More practically. . .

Q. How does this make reading instruction eaiser? A. It allows for letter sounds to be taught with more precision. Some children are happy with comments such as "Some words use a shorter oo sound". My child needed more explanation. Here it was!

Put into simple terms for a young reader: oo before k and d and sometimes t makes the uh (or short oo) sound. You need to insert the "sometimes" before t because your little student may be wearing "boots". (spoken with a long oo sound even without a western drawl)

This same idea applies broadly to the rest of reading sounds. oo is by no means the only sound that varies and may need explaining. Thankfully, interrupted consonants and semi-vowels are not the only types of letter sounds around to help sort out the confusion.

These types of sound distinctions make or mark when English words will vary from basic phonics sounds. That means that letter sound types either cause a word's pronunciation to be different from normal phonics sounds because of mouth position, or they "flag" the exception for readers. If you know these details you can teach reading more accurately.

What happens if detailed information about letter sounds is left out of phonics reading instruction? An example: A young reader learns that the oo sound is like the middle sound in pool. They force their mouth to say booook when "book" appears on a page. What happens next?


With exposure to book, foot ect. many children will see that words ending in d, k and t are similar to one another and different from pool. (Perhaps they distinguish between the rhythms of smoother/ longer sounds and the more abrupt endings).

However the recognition happens, they do not need to be taught. They will adjust the oo sound accordingly. Some will naturally change the oo sound to a shorter version the first time they see it. Reading instruction books tell you to expect this. I am here to tell you that it does not always happen.

In my own search I began to see that different sorts of letter sounds represented a missing link in my reading instruction. Most proponents of phonics (I am one of them) use letters sounds (ie. oo says the middle sound in pool) plus patterns they have noticed that explain variations from these sounds (ie. oo is shorter before letters like k, d and t) to read.

Here is the gap: They only teach the letter sounds. As much as half of all English words have variations from phonics sounds. Modern phonics leaves children to figure out these variations on their own.

How does phonics still work at all!? From my observations it seems that most readers pick up the patterns that predict variations in the sounds. They do this without being taught. Phonics works but the speed of reading progress varies with the speed and ease a person picks up sound patterns on their own .

For instance, I learned reading quickly. I never even noticed that words didn't strictly follow the phonics sounds I had been taught. The adjustment to a different sound was instant in my mind. I was doubly stumped when I was cast as teacher trying to explain needed adjustments.

It is well known that many children make slow reading progress with solid phonics programs. I believe these are students who notice and make adjustments for variations in sounds more slowly. Why not just teach them and speed things up?

Some very bright children (and adults) do not pick up sound patterns naturally - at all- at any speed. Usually these are mechanical thinkers. They keep trying to find out why?! for example some words have a shorter oo sound. "Why?" as in a definitive rule. "Some words just do" is a show-stopping, unsatisfying answer.

What happens in these cases?

The mechanical thinker needs to know precisely how letters and sounds fit together. They need the precision of different types of letter sounds, but they can't learn them on their own. They can however gladly fix your lawnmower or anything else that is broken!

Teaching a general oo sound and not explaining why and when the sound will not work is a dirty trick to a mechanical thinker. What if multiplication tables really did not contain only whole numbers answers all the time? Would we still teach only whole numbers and expect a child to pick up on his own when an answer might be off by a few decimal points?

I have seen phonics perceived by young minds in this way (to varying degrees). The glitch slows or stalls reading progress.

With our own mechanical thinker types of letter sounds added sorely missing precision. It provided the basis for explaining variations in standard letter sounds. I think that being given this type of information instead of figuring it out independently will speed up reading for most children. For some, it may be the only way they can learn to read well.

How to teach phonics and include specific types of letter sounds - my suggestion.

I would never try to teach a child what an interrupted consonant or an r effected vowel is. It's a frustration hazard! Just start with a short list of letters that you happen to know are interrupted consonants: b, k, t. Then tell your young scholar that the oo is shorter when it comes before these letters.

Same with r affected vowels. "ar makes the last sound in star" is fine. You don't need to teach the term "r-affected". We used lots of short lists of similar letter-types in English Decoder, a system we developed for our own children. There are no references even to syllables and consonants, let alone semi-vowel consonants that could bog kids down.

Is adding more detail to phonics overload? No, because there is no information added to the reading process. Children have to learn when a letter will vary from its basic phonics sound anyway. By using a letter sound type to identify variations you are just teaching the same information more directly.

Here is my own experience. Our mechanical child was reading. I turned to his younger sibling. Surprisingly she was reading too. I had given her exactly six lessons. She sounded out words on road signs. I did not burden her with details.

I think back to my second child. He had been promised a camping trip when he finished his standard phonics word/family -list style reader. He never got his award. He did read the Hobbit when he was about 3/4 of the way through his reader. I didn't feel much pressure to make phonics lesson time after that.

My conclusion is this. Give each child the chance to pick up variations from basic phonics sounds naturally. Only teach them every detail if they need it. I can see a few ways to do this.

One, use standard phonics sounds.

If progress slows or your child asks for more specific explanations provide them (either from your own observations of letter types and word family lists or with English Decoder material)

Two, use SI worksheets SI 1 , SI 2 These point out when sounds vary but allow the children to notice the why.

Three, use specific instruction (English Decoder) from the beginning with out loud reading for each lesson (pointing to words as your read them). If your child picks up patterns on their own they will be fluent before you are done with all the sounds. If they need more specifics you can easily keep going.

These are some of the different classes of letter sounds. You will likely begin to notice them now as you read too.

    More types of letter sounds
  • Letters spoken with an open mouth or throat are vowels- a,e, i o u and sometimes y.
  • Letters spoken with a closed sound are consonants -everything else
  • If a vowel sounds like the letter name it is a long vowel sound.
  • If a vowel sound is like the sound in at, let, it, mop, up it is a short vowel sound.
  • When c sounds like ss it is called a soft c sound.
  • When c sounds like k it is called a hard c sound.
  • When g sounds like get it is a hard g sound.
  • When g sounds like j it is a soft g sound.
  • A diphthong is a sound that combines two letters into a new sound. - oi, ow, ng, ch
  • A consonant blend is when two letters combine but still have their normal sound. - st, fl, cr
  • A sound that is made only with air and movement is called unvoiced - ss, and th as in thing.
  • A sound that uses the same mouth position and then adds a vocal sound is called voiced. - zz, or th as in that
  • Sounds that use vibration are nasal. - v, m, n
  • W is sometimes classified as a vowel.

Letter sound types in the Blue Backed Speller and elsewhere were more commonly used prior to the introduction of English phonics in the 1920's. Phonics was a huge improvement to reading. Words like "may, trail and date" were called "difficult monosyllable" in pre-phonics years. Modern reading instruction may provide an opportunity to combine some terms that have fallen out of use with improved language understanding.




Could you use English Decoder or SI worksheets?
Get them here: Work Sheets

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