How to Use this Guide
This glossary is intended to help explain vocabulary that may be useful for learning or teaching phonics. If you are confused by any of these terms, that is okay. Understanding all of these are not necessary for teaching phonics. This is also not intended to be used for academic linguistic purposes. We have tried to air on the side of simplicity over complexity in these definitions so that a larger non-native English speaking audience could better understand these terms.
IPA stands for International Phonetic Alphabet. It is a system where each unique sound is given its own symbol. Many people find it useful for making sure they are making the correct sounds when they are unsure of which sound any one letter is making in a new word. One thing to remember is that because IPA maps unique sounds, different accents of English may have different IPA spellings for the same word.
A system where letters are associated with sounds. It is one of the earliest ways we are taught to read in English.
A phoneme is the smallest unit of phonetic sound. An example of two words that have a one phoneme difference is bad and sad.
Phoneme blending is a skill where you can take several phonemes and put them together to make a word. For example the phonemes /c/, /a/, and /t/are blended to make cat. This is more commonly referred to as “sounding it out”.
Segmenting is the opposite of blending. Segmenting a word like “dog” means it is broken into its individual phonemes /d/ /o/ /g/.
Vowels are sounds made with little to no obstruction from your teeth, lips, or tongue. English has five main vowels: A, E, I, O, and U. Each vowel has two main sounds: the short vowel sound and the long vowel sound. The Letter Y is sometimes considered a vowel in cases like happy, hymn, or fly.
Vowel height is one of the two main ways to adjust vowel sounds. It determines how high or low your tongue is in your mouth.
A vowel sound made when your tongue is low in your mouth. It is a way to describe vowel height. It is the opposite of a closed vowel.
A vowel sound made when your tongue is high up in your mouth. It is related to vowel height. It is the opposite of an open vowel.
Vowel backness is one of the two main ways to adjust vowel sounds. It determines how far forward or back the tongue is in your mouth.
Short vowels are, as the name suggests, brief vowel sounds and are one of the two main kinds of vowel sounds. The short vowels include /a/ as in apple, /e/ as in egg, /i/ as in igloo, /o/ as in octopus, and /u/ as in umbrella.
Long vowels are the longer counterparts to the short vowel sounds. The sounds they make are the same as their names, making these sounds easy to remember. The long vowels are as follows: /ā/ as in name, /ē/ as in team, /ī/ as in time, /ō/ as in more, and /ū/ as in cute. Typically we know that a vowel is a long vowel based on the letters around it. Oftentimes, a long vowel is indicated by a “silent” or “magic” e. We can see this in “cute” where the final “e” has no sound but it does make the “u” a long /ū/ sound. The long vowel sounds are also indicated by vowel pairs, like in the word “team”. In “team”, the “a” in the word is silent but the “e” becomes a long /ē/ sound. These are a couple ways to know if a vowel is long or not; however, for the most part, learning which vowels are short and which are long will require a reliance on memorization, and not on grammar rules.
A consonant is essentially any letter that is not a vowel. Consonants are manipulated sounds where the restrictions of vocal cords, teeth, lips, and tongue all work to create the sound.
A voiced consonant is a sound that is made with the activation of our vocal cords. Voiced consonants include b, d, g, j, l, m, n, ng, r, sz, th, v, w, y, and z.
An unvoiced consonant is a consonant sound made without the use of your vocal cords. Unvoiced consonants include /ch/, /f/, /k/, /p/, /s/, /t/, and /th/.
A nasal consonant is a consonant sound made where the air escapes not through our mouths, but through our noses. In English, the /n/, /m/, and /ng/ sounds are nasal consonants.
Consonants formed using both of your lips coming together to form an obstruction or blocking of the airflow. In English, /b/, /p/, and /m/ are all bilabial consonants.
Alveolar consonants are consonants formed by your tongue touching your alveolar ridge (the hard ridge behind your upper teeth). In English, /n/, /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, and /l/ are all alveolar consonants.
Velar consonants are consonants formed when the back of your tongue touches the soft palate at the back of your mouth. English consonants /k/, /g/, /w/, and /ŋ/, all make this sound when the tongue seals with the soft palate and restricts airflow.
Postalveolar consonants are formed by placing your tongue just behind the hard ridge directly behind your upper teeth. We use this position to make the /ʃ/, /dʒ/, (/tʃ/) and /ʒ/ sounds.
Palatal consonants are formed by touching your tongue to the hard palate on the roof of your mouth. In English, the only palatal consonant is the letter “Y” when it makes /j/ (as in yes) sound.
Glottal consonants are consonants formed in the throat in a region called the glottis. In English, our only glottal consonant is the /h/ sound, where we exhale forcefully by pushing air out with our glottis.
Labio-Dental consonants in English are /f/ and /v/. They are formed when you impede airflow by touching the front of your lower lip to the back of your upper teeth.
Interdental consonants consist of the two “th” consonants (in IPA these are ð and θ). These are made by placing the tip of your tongue in between your upper and lower teeth to restrict the air coming out of your mouth.
These consonants are also sometimes referred to as plosives. In these consonants, airflow is completely stopped.
Fricative consonants are made by making a narrow gap in your mouth using your teeth, lips, tongue, etc, and forcing the air through it.
Approximant consonants are consonants that are made by bringing two parts of your mouth close together to make a sound. Approximants are split into two kinds: Liquids and Glides.