Link copied to clipboard

Why Letter Sounds Matter: Reading Starts with “Buh”

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Knowing the ABCs can only get a child so far…

The key skill is hearing individual sounds and sound units in spoken language. This is “phonemic awareness.”

Phonemic awareness comes ahead of phonics. Phonics is the ability to connect letters with the sounds they make and to identify sounds in common words with the letters those sounds represent. This is noticing that names that start with the letter J all start with a “juh” sound and that words that rhyme with “sing” all end with “-ing.”

The child who has mastered phonemic awareness is ready to link phonemes (individual speech sounds) with letters. But there isn’t a shortcut. You can’t jump straight to phonics without first lots of practice with phonemes.

According to the University of Oregon College of Education – and countless other reading experts – phonemic awareness is essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system and is a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success. Your toddler or preschool child needs this skill. If your school age child missed it and is struggling to read, practice in phonemic awareness is an excellent way to help at home.

So how can you encourage phonemic awareness?
•   Start early. Even conversations with infants can isolate individual speech sounds. In fact, this is how babies babble – by repeating “buh” and “guh” and “ah.”
•   Speak clearly. Make it easy for your child to hear speech sounds.
•   Don’t worry about your child’s inability to make sounds perfectly herself. She still is hearing them, even if she’s unable to speak them. It’s okay if when you and your child are playing with the “kuh” sound she pronouns “kuh” like “tuh.” She’s still getting the idea.
•   Play games with sounds every day. Make these your default time-fillers while riding in the car, waiting at the bus stop, cooking dinner, and so on.

What sort of games? Here are three. These are listed from easiest to hardest, so start with game #1 first.
1.   Game 1: Take turns thinking of things that start with “buh,” and all the other initial sounds. Remember that you’re working on noticing the sound. Don’t try to connect the sound to a letter, not yet.

2.   Game 2: Take turns thinking of things that rhyme with “sing,” and all the other common word stems. Rhyming is an important skill – just as important as initial letter sounds. Finding rhymes is fun. Again, don’t try to connect the rhyming word stem with the way it’s spelled. Phonemic awareness is not phonics so it’s not about letters.

3.   Game 3: Ask your child “Does mother have an rrr sound in it? What do you think?” This is a harder skill – figuring out if a target sound is anywhere in a word. If your child gets an answer wrong, as she certainly will at least sometimes, try to avoid saying “that’s wrong.” Say instead, “Let’s see… “ and then pronounce the word carefully. Try to let her discover the correct answer on her own.

Try Game 1 today, as you stand in line at the grocery store or are stuck in traffic. Help your child master phonemic awareness. Doing this will put him on the way to becoming a good reader.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

share this
Follow Us

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.