Most Difficult Phonics Sounds for Native English Speakers

8 Most Difficult Phonics Sounds for Native English Speakers

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Learning new phonic sounds can be a challenging and time-consuming process. It’s especially difficult when you come across some particularly tricky sounds. Some even look exactly the same! How can you help your child learn and master some of the most difficult phonic sounds? Check out this video that makes learning interactive, musical, and fun!

1. 8 Most Difficult Phonic Sounds

Let’s break down some of the sounds included in the video! You can practice the phonics and their word lists using the information below. Also, check out the brief description about the usage of the phonic sound.

1- -oy Sound

1) How to Pronounce the -oy Sound

  • Pronunciation of “Oy”: /oi/
  • Make an “O” shape with your mouth. Try saying “Oy Oy” many times.

“Oy” is a single-syllable phonic sound that almost always comes at the end of the word.

2) Example Words Containing the -oy Sound

  • Toy
  • Joy
  • Boy
  • Enjoy
  • Roy
  • Troy
  • Annoy
  • Destroy
  • Soy
  • Coy

3) Why It’s Difficult to Pronounce the -oy Sound

“Oy” is a difficult sound, because it’s a combination of two vowels that blend together. You can’t pronounce either of them by their name or their phonic sound. They combine to make a new sound!

4) How to Overcome It

Start off by practicing the shorter words that end with “Oy”. You can build onto them and try longer words once you gain confidence. For example, “boy”. You can practice by saying the phonics separately, then together. Try only saying the “b” sound. Next, practice “Oy”.

Say “Oy” two times before saying the whole word. For example, say “Oy Oy boy!” This will make it easier to combine “Oy” with other sounds.

2- -y Sound

1) How to Pronounce the -y sound

  • Pronunciation of “Y”: long /i/
  • The “Y” sound sounds like the word/letter “I”.

“Y” comes at the end of a word containing no other vowels. It sounds like a long “I”.

2) Example Words Containing the -y Sound

  • Fly
  • Sky
  • Cry
  • Why
  • Spy
  • My
  • By
  • Try
  • Shy
  • Fry

3) Why It’s Difficult to Pronounce the -y Sound

The -y sound isn’t pronounced by its name. It’s pronounced differently from a “Y” that comes at the start of a sentence. You wouldn’t read the -y sound as a “yuh” sound, but as a long “I” sound. Depending on where the “Y” is in a word, the pronunciation can change.

4) How to Overcome It

It can be tricky to learn the -y sound, but of you can remember the placement of it in a word, you’ll know what to do! Check if it’s at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence. If it’s at the end of a sentence with some consonants before it and no other vowels, like “Try”, then it’s the -y sound!

3- -y Sound

1) How to Pronounce the -y Sound

  • Pronunciation of “Y”: short /e/
  • “Y” comes at the end of words and sounds like a long “E”.

Many adjectives end with the -y sound.

2) Example Words Containing the -y Sound

  • Kitty
  • City
  • Pretty
  • Very
  • Dirty
  • Many
  • Muddy
  • Happy
  • Baby
  • Any

3) Why It’s Difficult to Pronounce the -y Sound

Knowing the difference between “Y”: short /e/ and “Y”: long /i/ can be a challenge, because both often appear in the same place in a word, at the end.

4) How to Overcome It

Most words with the -y sound have two syllables. This can make it easy to check how to pronounce the “Y” at the end of a word. For example “Happy” has two syllables, “Ha” and “ppy”. Try clapping your hands once for each syllable you hear in a word to find out how many syllables it has.

4- -ay Sound

1) How to Pronounce the -ay sound

  • Pronunciation of “Ay”: long /a/
  • “Ay” comes at the end of a word and sounds like a long “A”.

2) Example Words Containing the -ay Sound

  • Day
  • Play
  • Today
  • Birthday
  • May
  • Way
  • Play
  • Say
  • Away
  • Okay

3) Why it’s Difficult to Pronounce the -ay Sound

Learning the -ay sound can be a bit confusing because it is made up of two vowels to make the long “A” sound.

4) How to Overcome It

Even though the -ay sound is the same as the long “A”, there’s a way to tell the difference between them. The -ay sound almost always appears at the end of a word. Even if you need to spell a word by hearing only phonic sounds, you can do it! Just check when the long “A” sound appears. If it’s near the end of the word, it’s probably an -ay sound.

5- -le Sound

1) How to Pronounce the -le Sound

  • Pronunciation of “Le”: /l/
  • “Le” often comes at the end of a word and follows a consonant. It sounds like the phonic “L”.

2) Example Words Containing the -le Sound

  • Little
  • Apple
  • Table
  • Middle
  • Puddle
  • Eagle
  • Jungle
  • Tickle
  • Pickle
  • Giggle

3) Why it’s Difficult to Pronounce the -le Sound

The -le sound is the combination of the consonant “L” and vowel “E”. When combined, the “E” is silent and the “L” is pronounced by its phonic sound. It can be a challenge to use -le, because you might be tempted to read the “E” by its phonic sound or name.

4)  How to Overcome It

It can be tricky to know when to use the -le sound, but there’s a way to master its usage. If you recognize a short vowel followed by a double consonant ending with the “L” phonic sound, you’ll know it’s time to use -le. (e.g. little, puddle, giggle). Also, if you hear a long vowel followed by a consonant ending with the “L” phonic sound, you can use -le. (e.g. table, smile).

6- -ph Sound

1) How to Pronounce the -ph Sound

  • Pronunciation of “Ph”: /f/
  • “Ph” is a phonic blend that creates a sound like the phonic “F”.

2) Example Words Containing the -ph Sound

  • Photo
  • Phone
  • Dolphin
  • Elephant
  • Phew
  • Trophy
  • Alphabet
  • Physical
  • Paragraph
  • Typhoon

3) Why it’s Difficult to Pronounce the -ph Sound

The -ph sound is a combination of two consonants that make the “F” sound. It’s called a digraph. Learning the -ph sound can be a challenge because “P” and “H” on their own sound nothing like the “F” sound.

4) How to Overcome It

When you hear or read the -ph sound, you’ll see that it’s preceded or followed by a vowel. When a vowel is present, you’ll almost always pronounce the -ph sound like the “F” sound.

7- wh-

1) How to Pronounce the wh- Sound

  • Pronunciation of “Wh”: /w/
  • “Wh” often comes at the beginning of a word and sounds like the phonic “W”. The “H” is silent and often followed by a vowel.

2) Example Words Containing the wh- Sound

  • White
  • Whale
  • What
  • Where
  • Why
  • While
  • Whip
  • Whisper
  • Whistle
  • Wheel

3) Why it’s Difficult to Pronounce the wh- Sound

The wh- sound is another digraph, but the consonants “W” and “H” don’t combine to make a new sound. This can be very confusing because only the “W” phonic sound is pronounced.

4) How to Overcome It

Start by learning to recognize the wh- sound as the “W” sound. While there are some exceptions to this rule, e.g. who, whose, whom, the majority of words containing the wh- sound are read as the “W” sound. If you can master this, then you can try to expand your learning and move on to even more challenging sounds!

2. Educational Activities

1- Flashcard Flip

Write up some flashcards. Color code them based on their phonics sound. Place them face down on a table. First, flip over one card. Challenge your child to think of a word using that phonic sound. Better yet, make a sentence using the word!

If you’d like to add to the challenge, flip over 2 or more cards at once and make a sentence using multiple words using the phonics you chose.

2- Phonics Slam

Using the same cards, take one card from each phonic group. (For example, one “Ph”, one “Y”, one “Le”, etc.) Lay them on a table face up. Call out a phonic sound. Have your child smack the correct card.

This is a very exciting chance for your child to get a little fired up and have fun learning phonics! After they’ve gotten used to the game and feel confident about their phonics, up the stakes a bit!

Say a word containing the same phonic sound as those on the table. Now your child has to identify which phonic sound the word contains and must smack the correct phonic sound.

3- Play Time

Is your child a drama lover? Here’s a great chance for them to learn phonics and put on a show! Choose a phonic sound and practice the words containing them. Make some simple props out of paper, markers, and tape.

Ask your child to put on a play and use some of the new words they just learned. Be sure to lend a hand by playing a part in the play and helping to come up with a script!

If you’re struggling to come up with some play ideas, re-watch the video and imitate one of the stories. Perhaps your child could be a sea captain sailing in the hopes of finding a white whale! This would be a great and creative way to reinforce the wh- phonic sound!

4- Mini Author

If your child enjoys writing, invite them to write their very own book! Using only one group of phonic sounds or many from all of the groups presented in the video, ask your child to write a simple story with pictures. If this is too difficult for your child at their current level, drawing pictures and writing the word associated with it underneath is also a fantastic way to practice phonics.

Try reading the book together until your child can read it confidently. Then, ask them to read it to you. They’ll feel so proud of themselves, it might become their and your new favorite bedtime story!

5- Toy Teacher

Does your child like to play with toys? If you have some stuffed animals or dolls around, invite them to learn phonics with your child. After reviewing some words and phonic sounds your child feels they can use confidently, ask them to become a little teacher.

Your child can sit in the driver’s seat and take charge of the lesson! Let them try to explain some of their favorite phonic sounds and vocabulary words to their dolls. The toys are sure to be good listeners!

This activity will reinforce what your child has just learned because they’ll have to think hard about the lesson and understand it well enough to explain it to someone else.

Don’t forget to keep learning fun and interactive! Even the most difficult phonic sounds can be mastered after a little work and a lot of play.

3. How Red Cat Reading Can Help

Learning phonics and reading go hand-in-hand. Reading can help you visualize the phonics that you’re trying to learn and speaking helps to boost your phonics abilities! You can find all of the resources you need to master phonics at Red Cat Reading Download Center. You’ll have access to free books and videos that’ll make learning some of the most difficult phonic sounds easy!

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