Notation for the 43 Sounds

Whenever a phonics curriculum is devised, a decision has to be made as to how to break down all English words into component phonics sounds, or phonemes. The OnTrack Reading Phonics Program teaches spellings for 43 specific English phonemes, consisting of 24 consonant sounds and 19 vowel sounds.

It’s necessary to establish some notation so that we can discuss sounds in here without having to say them aloud. When I use the notation /s/, I mean the sound /s/, as in sit. Then choices have to be made. To take one example, I chose to define "oo" as the vowel sound we hear in the word soon. So, wherever you see the notation /oo/, it will therefore mean the vowel sound in soon. As you will see when you read the list below, most of the symbols chosen for sounds are obvious. About five of them might be difficult to recall or might need a bit of explanation, particularly /oul/, /err/, /the/, /hw/ and /zh/.

Below is a list of the 24 consonant sounds and the 19 vowel sounds in the OnTrack Reading curriculum, or 43 sounds in all. Note that no consonant /y/ sound, as in yard, is listed. In this curriculum the first sound in yard is denoted as an /ee/ sound with the emphasis on saying it quickly. Thus, the notation for yard is /ee/ar/d/.

Notation for Consonant Sounds

1. /b/ as in bet
2. /c/ as in cot
3. /d/ as in dip
4. /f/ as in fan
5. /g/ as in got
6. /h/ as in hot
7. /j/ as in jar
8. /l/ as in land
9. /m/ as in mat
10. /n/ as in nap
11. /p/ as in pet
12. /r/ as in red
13. /s/ as in sip
14. /t/ as in tip
15. /v/ as in van
16. /w/ as in wet
17. /z/ as in zip
18. /sh/ as in ship
19. /ch/ as in chip
20. /th/ as in thin
21. /the/ as in this (Symbol for sound doesn’t match spelling)
22. /ng/ as in rung
23. /hw/ as in when (Symbol for sound doesn’t match spelling)
24. /zh/ as in vision (Symbol for sound doesn’t match spelling)

Notation for Vowel Sounds

1. /a/ as in cat
2. /e/ as in bet
3. /i/ as in kid
4. /o/ as in hot
5. /u/ as in nut
6. /ae/ as in favor (Symbol for sound doesn’t match spelling)
7. /ee/ as in see
8. /ie/ as in tie
9. /oe/ as in toe
10. /ue/ as in cue
11. /oo/ as in zoo
12. /oul/ as in would
13. /ow/ as in cow
14. /oy/ as in boy
15. /aw/ as in saw
16. /er/ as in her
17. /ar/ as in car
18. /or/ as in for
19. /err/ as in merry

For now, note that these particular choices were made:

1. /hw/ differs from /w/ and /h/. I describe it as the “blow out a candle” sound.

2. /ar/ is always treated as one sound, rather than as two sounds /o/+/r/

3. /or/ is treated as one sound when it is spelled as or and as orr, rather than as two sounds /oe/+/r/

4. /err/ is treated as one sound when it is spelled as err, arr, er, ar, and ere, rather than as two sounds /ae/+/r/

5. No consonant sound for the letter “y” as in yard is listed.

Several of the specific symbol choices should also perhaps be explained:

1. /the/ was chosen for the sound heard in words like that and those because the spelling th was already used for the sound in words like think and thin.

2. /ae/ was chosen to mirror the ee, ie, oe, and ue symbols for their respective sounds. Think Mae West for an example, but generally ae is an infrequent spelling of this sound.

3. /oul/ was chosen because the more common oo spelling in wood was already used for /oo/ as in zoo and the u spelling in push was already used for /u/ as in nut

4. /hw/ was chosen rather than wh because the way the sound is taught in the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program is more accurately reflected as hw. That is, /hw/ more closely reflects “blowing out a candle.”

5. /zh/ was chosen to reflect the infrequent sound encountered in vision and beige because the common spellings of /zh/ are not intuitive representations of the sound.

Now that we have some understanding on how sounds will be discussed in print, we move on to a discussion of four Phonics Assessment Tests that you can use to determine your child’s particular strengths and weaknesses as he attempts to make sense of the phonics structure of English words, beginning with Testing Blending Skill.