Phonemes are the smallest unit of sound that make up our language. While we have 26 letters of the American alphabet, we actually have 44 sounds.

How is that possible, you ask?

Some Phonemes are made up of individual letters. For example, D makes the /d/ sound, like you hear in the words dog, middle, and flood. No matter where D shows up in the word, it makes the same sound.

Other letters, are a bit more tricky. Consider the letter C. Depending on the letters that come immediately before or after it, C can make a hard sound, like /k/, in cake, courage, comic, and luck. Or C can make a soft sound like /s/, in celery, pencil, and fancy.

Vowels can make even more different sounds, depending on their letter partners. Take a look at A. In its simplest form, A makes a short /a/ vowel sound, like you hear in cat. The letter A can also make a long-A sound in words such as cake, pain, day, and weigh. Add an -R to any vowel and it effects its sound. Consider AR words like ark, jar and farm. Finally, pair A up with certain other letters and you get unusual sounds, like what you hear in author, yawn, talk, and fall.



The number of phonemes a word has will NOT always equal the number of letters in the word.

The goal of Phonological Awareness instruction is to help a child develop an ear for language. You don’t have to worry about reading or spelling so many different rules. When you focus on listening and learning to discriminate different sounds, you are laying the foundation for successful reading later on.

Last modified on September 27, 2019

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