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Matching Letters And Sounds

Most people agree that spelling and pronouncing English words correctly is difficult. But why is that? This reading deals with pronunciation, paying particular attention to the rules regarding pronouncing vowels and consonants.

The reason is that we say English words in one way but we often spell them differently from how you would expect.

For example, in the sentences above:

  • we write people but we say pee-puhl
  • we write reason but we say ree-zin
  • we write one but we say wun.

Luckily there are some spelling and pronunciation rules to help you speak and spell better. In this reading you will find out about some of the sounds of the letters in the alphabet.

In Additional resources you can see a link to a website where you can listen to words and sounds and practise them. 

The alphabet: from A to Z

When you write, you form words using the letters of the alphabet.

Each letter represents one or more different sounds. You use these sounds when you speak.  

The alphabet has 26 letters. We combine these letters to make words.

Five vowels: A, E, I, O, U

When you sound a vowel, the air comes out of your mouth without any stops. Try this yourself. The vowels are: A, E, I, O and U or a, e, i, o and u.

Vowels have a short sound and a long sound.

Short vowel sounds

Each vowel has a short sound. Read this section aloud so you can hear the sounds.

  • the short a sound:  sounds like the short a in hat and sat
  • the short e sound: sounds like the short e in bed and head
  • the short i sound: sounds like the short i in sit and hit
  • the short o sound: sounds like the short o in pot and stop
  • the short u sound: sounds like the short u in run, bus and shut.

Long vowel sounds

Each vowel also has a long sound like its name in the alphabet, A, E, I, O and U. Read this section aloud so that you can hear the sounds. Notice that for each sound, there are often different spellings.

  • the long ay sound: sounds like A, or like the ay- sound in say, pay and late.
  • the long ee sound: sounds like E, or like the ee- sound in see, me, clean and tree.
  • the long ai sound: sounds like I, or like the ai- sound in ice, nice, try and buy.
  • the long oh sound: sounds like O, or like the oh- sound in no, hope, soap and grow.
  • the long yoo  sound: sounds like U, or like the yoo- sound in cute and use.

When you combine two vowels or add other letters, you get different sounds, for example:

the long ow sound: like in cow, now, mouth and shout

the long oo sound: like in you, shoe, school and do.

The consonants: B, C, D to Z

When you sound out a consonant, you stop the air in some way as it comes out of your mouth. For example, you use your lips, tongue or teeth to make the b-, t-, sh- and th- sounds. Try making the sounds yourself and notice which part of your mouth stops the air.

There are twenty consonants in the alphabet, beginning with B and ending in Z (say zed).

The letter y sometimes acts as a consonant (in your and yesterday) and sometimes as a vowel (in baby and cry).