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Voiced and Unvoiced Sound Pairs

The Importance of Teaching the Proper Phonics Sounds

Teaching children to read through the combination of synthetic phonics along with phonemic awareness is arguably the most effective method; however, when you teach the incorrect pronunciation of the sounds, some children may experience reading difficulties. I work with many grade 1 and grade 2 students that are far behind in reading skills - to help them catch up. When I have new students join my program, I do a quick assessment to get a feel of where they're at, and see what sort of reading difficulties they have. One common problem that I find with many students is that aside from their LACK of phonics and phonetics knowledge, they are taught many of the phonics sounds incorrectly!

It's unfortunate that the education system (at least in North America) focuses on the teaching of sight words memorization (whole language), along with some piecemeal phonics, but equally unfortunate, is that children are being taught the incorrect pronunciation of many phonics sounds! These sounds are the basic building blocks of the words in our speech, and when students are taught the wrong sounds, they're definitely going to have some problems with reading and decoding! That's just the way it is...

The most prevalent problem is that teachers and parents alike, are adding a voiced "uh" sound at the end of many of these sounds, and you just can't do that. Below are a few examples:

/c/ - "cuh"
/d/ - "duh"
/v/ - "vuh"
/m/ - "muh"
/p/ - "puh"

I wish that teachers and parents would stop teaching these sounds with the added "uh" ending. It creates problems for the young student when they try to "blend" using these sounds. With the students I teach, the first thing I have to do, is teach them the CORRECT sounds, and then show them that there is a simple way of connecting and manipulating those sounds to figure out how to read effectively.

Voiced and Voiceless Sound Pairs

Putting all that aside, this article is really about the voiced and unvoiced sound pairs. Below is the list:

Voiced          Voiceless

/b/                 /p/

/d/                  /t/

/g/                  /k/

/j/                  /ch/

/th/               /th/

/v/                 /f/

/z/                 /s/

So what is a voiced sound and what is a voiceless sound? The easiest way to explain is that a voiced sound is made with your vocal cords. There is a simple way to differentiate between these 2 types of sounds, and this is how I explain to my students and their parents.

Voiced sounds - are made by the vibrations in your throat. Put your fingers on your throat, and make a voiced sound, such as /b/, /d/, or voiced /th/. You will feel your throat vibrate.

Unvoiced sounds - are made WITHOUT any vibrations in your throat, and are made simply by "pushing" air through the mouth. For example, /p/, /t/, /f/, /s/.

With both voiced and voiceless sounds, please do NOT add an ending "uh" (schwa) sound. It will distort the sound.

The sounds in the above list are "sound pairs" because the voiced and unvoiced sounds take the same mouth position, with the only difference being that the throat vibrates for the voiced sound, and does not vibrate for the unvoiced sound. Try sounding out some of the above sounds with your fingers on your throat (to feel for the vibrations). If your throat vibrates during any of the unvoiced sounds, then you are not pronouncing that sound correctly.

To learn more about how you can easily teach your child to read, click here.