It seems like everywhere I turn in my home, I can hear this *lovely* song: “B says /b/, B says, /b/. Every letter makes a sound…” Oh, do I have you singing it now? I’m so sorry. Believe me, I know every verse; as I’m sure you do too, if you have little ones in the home.
Learning letter sounds. While there’s probably not a “wrong” way to do it (okay, I guess there could be), I believe there is a more developmentally appropriate way than starting with the /a/ sound and working your way through in order to the /z/ sound. I like to introduce letter sounds in a different order, which can help to minimize confusion.
Much of the confusion over letter sounds occurs at the point of articulation. Letter sounds are produced or articulated in different places of the mouth. For example, the /m/ sound is produced by placing both lips together (bilabial) while the /k/ sound is made at the back of the throat. (Hang in there. I do have a point in all this jargon.) Some sounds require the voice to be used /v/, while others do not /f/. There are continuant sounds, meaning they can be elongated naturally /sssssss/, while there are other letter sounds that cannot be elongated (stops), like the /b/ sound. Some letters are very similar in their articulation, such as /t/ and /d/. And because they are so similar, they have the potential to confuse young children if introduced close together. Whew…now, take a deep breath.
The interesting part about all the above info is that even though I studied a lot of this stuff when getting my M.Ed. in Reading, I initially learned most of it while getting my undergrad in music! I was a voice major and we had to take five diction classes, learning the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), in order to know how to pronounce words in several different languages. Little did I know that this information would serve me far beyond singing Clair de Lune! I think it’s so cool how God prepared me to be a teacher before I even knew it was in His plan!
Here is the order in which I typically introduce consonant letter sounds: (I do not follow this exactly in every situation*)
m, s, r, b, t, g, n, p, c, h, f, d, l, k, j, w, y, z, v, x, & q- (both x and q produce two sounds /ks/ for x and /kw/ for q)
By introducing sounds in this approximate order, the letters that have similar articulation points are separated enough so that confusion is minimal. And an added bonus: the letters that are similar in print features (b, d, p, & q) are also spaced further apart from each other.
1. If you are introducing the letter sounds to a younger child (for example, NJoy is 2) or a child with speech delays, it may help to adapt the order a bit so that some of the “easier” sounds are introduced first. Here are two links about articulation development, if you want to read them: Developmental Articulation Chart & full research article. (Thank you, Tiffany!)
Here’s the main idea of these resources: The letter sounds that have the potential of being more difficult to articulate are generally: /f/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /v/, /y/ & /z/. It may work best to postpone them, so the order may look more like:
m, b, t, g, n, p, c, h, d, k, w, j, f, y, s, v, z, l, r, x, & q
2. If you are introducing these sounds to an older child (let’s say a Kindergartner), I do not feel it is necessary to get through all 21 consonants before you introduce a short vowel sound (like short a). If a short vowel is mixed in there, the child can begin working on simple word families and reading words sooner. You can see how I started doing this with ALuv here.
3. Some reading philosophies (Montessori, for example) choose to teach letter sounds before letter names. Because of this, the letter order must differ to facilitate reading words. Here is a post that does a good job explaining this.
LETTER SOUNDS AND BEYOND…
One of the reasons that articulation interests me is that it helps to explain the interesting invented spellings of young children. What seems like a random spelling begins to make sense. Take for example, PK for pig. From an articulation stand-point, k is a great substitution for g because they are both pronounced in a similar spot: a guttural sound in the back of the tongue and throat. And if a child is stretching out the sounds in a classroom or in a setting where they need to do so quietly, /k/ is the sound that g makes when the voice is not used. Pretty cool!
And just in case you are just dying for another round, here you go: “D says /d/, D says /d/…” Happy singing!