Phonetic Spelling

What is phonetic spelling, and how can you teach pupils to spell phonetic words? Learn all about phonetic spelling, how to spell phonetic words and how it can be very beneficial for children when learning to spell long and tricky words!

What is Phonetic Spelling?

Phonetic spelling is a clever way to help young kids spell longer and more complex words. The technique involves sounds of letters and uses each letter to represent a single spoken sound to help children spell them.

Some words are spelled exactly how they’re sounded out. For example, the letter ‘T’ uses one sound. So when you say the word tree, you can hear the letter ‘T’ sound, creating an unmistakable sound.

However, things get a little tricky when the ‘T’ is paired with other letters, such as ‘th’ words, as it loses the simple sound and creates a new sound. The new sound ‘th’ words create doesn’t create a singular sound, and in certain words such as thin and this, the single letter of ‘T’ doesn’t correlate to one sound, making it a little trickier to spell.

Phonemes vs. graphemes               

A phoneme is simply the smallest unit of sound within a word. On the other hand, a grapheme is any given letter or combination of letters representing a phoneme. Phonemes and graphemes play a crucial role in phonetic spelling, as they are all about the sound of words.

Some languages follow a system known as phonemic orthography. This is where the graphemes, i.e., the written symbols, correspond precisely to the language’s phonemes, i.e., the spoken sounds. English, as a language, is not overly phonetically consistent. The most phonetically consistent languages across the board are Russian, Korean, and Arabic. In these languages, the pronunciation between written and spoken speech is not much changed. This type of language is often seen as a more straightforward way of spelling and pronunciation.

Who Uses Phonetic Spelling and Why is it Useful?

Phonetic spelling can be helpful for a wide range of people, including the kids in your class! When kids are just starting with spelling, everything can seem quite overwhelming, and the idea that there are some spelling rules but many exceptions to them can seem like too much to take on. This is where phonetic spelling comes in, as it simplifies everything by getting kids to match each sound in a word with a letter they think makes the same sound. This will not always result in kids spelling words correctly, but it will get them on the right track. For instance, a child may initially spell a word like ‘tell’ as ‘tel’, based on their method of matching the sounds with letters that represent them. This phase in children’s education will help them learn how to read and spell correctly.

The technique is also good if children have a tricky name to spell, as it allows them to break it down. For example, if we’re presented with the name Raul, you would sound it like Rah-OOL, with a heavy pronunciation of the ‘ool’ sound, so they understand how it’s pronounced. Or the name, Sophia, would be pronounced so-FEE-uh. This is a great way to make sure children pronounce names correctly; you could even try this for fun with your child’s name as a warm-up exercise.

Switching things up

Several people have tried to change how we spell using the English language over time. One of the people who had notable success in this was Noah Webster, whose name you may recognize from a particular famous dictionary. Webster suggested that a small number of new standardized spellings be implemented for certain words. His suggestions are still in use in American and British English today. For example, Webster suggested that the letter ‘c’ be changed to ‘s’ in some words like offense and defense. He also proposed that the letter ‘k’ be taken off words like musick. Not all of Webster’s suggested changes were implemented, but those shaped entirely how we spell today!

What are Phonetic Words?

Phonetic describes the way that spoken words sound. To sound out an unfamiliar word, you break it into its phonetic parts, saying each in the order in which it appears.

Spelling Phonetic Words: consonants and vowels

Here is a list of consonants and vowels, their phonetic sounds, and examples. You could use this table when helping children learn how to spell these different words by pronouncing the sounds slowly and clearly.

Examples of phonetic words with different consonant sounds:

Sound/letter: Example:
b but, bad.
ch cheese, cheek or nature – spelt with a t, but makes the same sound.
d do, dog.
f fur, food, enough- ‘gh’ sounds like ‘f.’
g go, bug.
h hop, ahead.
l leg, letter.
m man, mom.
n no, tin – ‘n’ sound is at the end.
ng ring, sing.
p pen, tip – ‘p’ sound is at the end.
r run, far – ‘r’ sound is heard at the end when pronounced.
s/ss see, pass.
sh she, emotion – spelt differently but when pronounced the ‘sh’ sound is heard.
t twig, bet – heard at the end when pronounced.
th the, teeth.
v visit, have.
w We
wh whisper, what

Examples of phonetic words with different vowel sounds:

Sound/letter: Example:
a cat, hat.
air square – spelt differently, but when pronounced, sounds like ‘air’.
ar party, start.
ay stay, sway.
ai pain, chain.
er letter, burger
ee fleece, beep.
i kit, lit.
o lot, toast.
oe shoe, poem.
oo food, boot.
ou out, count.
ow mouth – even though it’s spelt differently, you can still hear the ‘ow’ sound.
u gum, bun.

As shown above, words sometimes sound out different letters to how they’re spelled; this is when things get tricky. If a child struggles with a particular set of words, try noting them down and going over them more than others until they master them.

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