The Top 7 problems when teaching phonetic sounds

There are 8 things that catch parents out when teaching phonics:

  • the schwa sound
  • stretchy sounds
  • bouncy sounds
  • clicky sounds
  • the letter x
  • the letters h and p
  • vowels
  • digraphs (which will be covered in a separate article)

I hope to give you a better understanding of the basics of  pure phonetic sounds and how to make them. If you are still a little confused, however, don’t forget that you can leave a comment so that I can help you further 🙂

When it all goes wrong…

To teach your child to “sound out” you need absolutely exact pronunciations. If you don’t blend pure and correct phonetic sounds you end up with very strange sounding words:

Try this one: muh-a-nuh

It takes a bit of figuring out.

Pronounced correctly as mmm-a-nnn you can instantly hear “man”.

Or worse again, muh-a-tuh instead of mmm-a-t.

To produce pure phonetic sounds you need to learn about:

The Schwa:

Once upon a time, there lived a sneaky Schwa. He thought that his “uh” sound was the best in the alphabet! This sneaky Schwa belongs only with three letters : u, and q and y. Not content with this he tries to sneak in at the end of as many consonants as he can.  Beware the Schwa, beware! He takes a sound and adds his “uh”. He changes the letter n from “nnn” to “nuh” . Beware, beware, beware!

The schwa is a tricky little fellow and is the number 1 problem I hear when testing sounds. Hardly any sounds should have a schwa/uh sound at the end.

  • u, qu, and y sounds all have a strong “uh” sound at the end
  • b, d and g can be tricky to pronounce without an “uh” sound. Try and make that “uh” really, really quiet if you can’t avoid it.

Stretchy sounds: ( long and stretchy. Not an “uh” to be heard)

  • mmm not m-uh
  • fff not f-uh
  • rrr not r-uh
  • sss not s-uh
  • zzz not z-uh
  • sh-h-h not sh-uh
  • vvv not vuh
  • x says k-s-s
  • lll not l-uh
  • zzz not z-uh

I often get my class to say them while stretching out and elastic band. This stretching and saying over exaggerates the sounds, but gets it on their ear. Try saying the sound for as long as it takes you to stretch out you elastic band.

Bouncy sounds: Don’t hang around too long on these sounds. Say them quickly and sharply and move on. Not a “uh” in sight!!!

  • b/  not buh (tricky to say without an “uh”. Short and sharp! Only the tiniest, tiniest  whisper of an uh)
  • d/ not duh(tricky to say without an “uh”. Short and sharp! Only the tiniest, tiniest  whisper of an uh)
  • g/  not guh
  • w/ not wuh
  • j / not juh
  • y not yuh
  • ch = ch-h not cuh

Clicky sounds:

  • c
  • t

The Letter x

No one ever seems to know how to make a stab at this one ;). It got an honorable mention in our Bouncy Sounds section. It causes so many people to scratch their heads that I am giving it an extra mention. It says k-s-s.

Quiet sounds:

  • h

Take a deep breath and breath slowly and quietly out through your mouth. Its sound like a sigh or a panting dog. Never a harsh huh

  • p

Lips together and gently, gently push the air out. It’s so quiet that it almost fades away. Never a harsh huh.


  • a the first sound in a-n-t
  • e the first sound in e-n-d
  • i the first sound in i-g-l-oo , not ice-cream
  • o the first sound in o-n
  • u the first sound in u-p

I would recommend purchasing The Jolly Song Book by Jolly Phonics as  you can hear all of these sounds pronounced correctly. The songs are a great way for your child to learn phonics.

Alternatively, I found this YouTube video that you can listen to. The stretchy sounds are not “stretched” enough, though.


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