Phonemes are sounds AND articulatory gestures

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Phonemes are perceptually distinct speech sounds that distinguish one word from another, e.g. the “p”, “b”, “t” and “d” in “pie”, “by”, “tie” and “die”. They’re also articulatory gestures.

A 2009 article co-authored by reading guru Linnea Ehri says “awareness of articulatory gestures facilitates the activation of graphophonemic connections that helps children identify written words and secure them in memory.” Melbourne Speech Pathologist Helen Botham (Hi, Helen!), lists a number of references on her Cued Articulation website indicating articulatory awareness facilitates phonemic awareness.

I sit right across the table from my clients, so we can see and hear each other’s articulation well. It must be a lot harder to teach a whole class about phonemes, in order to link them to graphemes. Videos on the internet (including my own) about phonemes seem to put them all in one video, making them hard to isolate and repeat on a classroom interactive whiteboard.

I’ve thus filmed my utterly adorable and orthodontically photogenic niece Vivien (thanks, Vivien!) saying each phoneme separately. The 44 videos are below, each with example words which link to the relevant spelling lists on my website.

I hope these are useful in developing kids’ phonemic and articulatory awareness, as well as in teaching adults to say consonant sounds crisply and correctly (without adding a schwa vowel or voicing voiceless consonants) when teaching blending, segmenting and more advanced phonemic awareness.

Stop/plosive consonants:


p as in puppy, troupe, steppe, subpoena

b as in bubble, build, cupboard, Bhutan

t as in totter, jumped, serviette, Thomas, doubt

d as in doddle, hugged, aide, dhal

k as in cat, kit, quit, fox, school, mosque, soccer

g as in gaggle, guess, ghost, league, example

Nasal consonants (all voiced):

m as in mummy, thumb, Autumn, gendarme

n as in nanny, know, sign, caffeine, pneumonia

ng as in song, think, tongue

Fricative consonants:



th as in think

th as in them, breathe

f as in fluffy, phone, graph, giraffe, sapphire

v as in vet, solve, skivvy, of, Wagner, Stephen

s as in sassy, cent, house, niece, fox, scent

z as in zip, is, buzz, freeze, cruise, example

sh as in ship, action, musician, discussion

zh as in vision, treasure, beige

h as in house, who

Affricate consonants (stop followed by fricative):

ch as in chip, catch, future, cello, cappuccino

j as in jam, gem, bridge, large, region, budgie

Glides/liquids or semivowel consonants

w as in wet, when, quiz

y as in yes, onion, lasagne, hallelujah

l as in lolly, bottle, grille, imbroglio

r as in remarry, wrist, rhubarb, diarrhoea

Checked or “short” vowels (must be followed by a consonant)

a as in cat, plait, timbre, salmon, reveille

e as in red, head, said, any, friend, bury, leisure

i as in pin, gym, pretty, sieve, busy, women

o as in got, want, because, cough, entree

u as in up, front, young, flood, does

oo as in good, put, could, woman, tour

“Long” vowels (can be the last sound in a word/syllable)

ay as in make, rain, say, paper, eight, they, cafe

ee as in see, sea, we, these, field, silly, honey, taxi

I as in like, my, find, pie, night, bye, type, chai

oh as in home, boat, no, slow, toe, oh, though

ooh as in soon, chew, June, flu, soup, blue, fruit, to

you as in cute, few, human, cue, feud, beautiful

Other vowels (sometimes called “long” too, as they can be the last sound in a word or syllable)

ar as in car, grass, calm, heart, galah, baa

er as in her, dirt, turn, work, learn, journey, were

or as in or, saw, more, all, four, walk, door, haunt

ow as in out, how, drought, sauerkraut, Maori

oy as in boil, boy, Freud, lawyer

air as in care, hair, there, bear, parent, aeroplane

ear as in near, deer, here, pier, bacteria, weird

uh as in a, the, over, liar, actor, fire, metre, future

Finally, I should say (for the linguistic purists) that there is more than one way to slice and count sounds, and how you do this is also affected by your accent. However, slicing and counting them this way (24 consonants, 20 vowels) seems to me to make the most sense of our complicated spelling system for speakers of General Australian English.

The Speech Pathology purists will also notice that Vivien’s alveolar fricatives are slightly fronted (i.e. she has a very tiny lisp) but it’s not noticeable to most people, so I think the /s/ and /z/ recordings I’ve made still count as allophones of /s/ and /z/. People who don’t like them can get their own niece, or someone else, to face the camera.

In fact, teachers might find that kids enjoy making videos of each other pronouncing the phonemes, and find doing it and watching the results helps get everyone thinking and learning about speech sounds. Why use my videos when you can make your own?!


20 responses to “Phonemes are sounds AND articulatory gestures”

  1. Monika Dryburgh says:

    What an amazing resource! Many thanks to you and Vivien for creating and sharing it.

  2. Thank you, I can see so many practical applications for this resource. Many thanks to your neice, also.

  3. Susanne Schaefer says:

    Really amazing resource. Thank you!

  4. Gay McDonell says:

    WOW!!! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Mary Height says:

    Thank you Alison and Vivien! These video clips have helped one of my little student’s today. The little girl must have noticed Vivien’s beautiful teeth because she said that perhaps the gap between her two middle teeth made it harder for her to say the ‘l’ sound. It really helped the little girl to change the shape of her mouth and produce a better sound.

  6. Jo Kavenagh says:

    Interesting! Thank you

  7. Seng Wong says:

    Thank you so much for this!

  8. […] and look, but how they are produced in the mouth (see here and here for relevant research, and here for videos of my excellent niece saying each phoneme in Australian […]

  9. Hagit Lahav says:

    I love the videos and will use them to demionstrate the letter sounds with my students. Thanks for the initiative!

  10. Jo Scott says:

    This is great. I have NEVER heard ‘w’ or ‘y’ pronounced this way. Even those demonstrating the main alphabet sounds in classrooms or online. Everyone seems to put a grunt (schwa?) on the end. I know not to do it with ‘t’ but these 2 letters seem to stop short. Should we be teaching it this way to students?

    • alison says:

      Hi Jo, I think we should be teaching pure /w/ and /y/ but they sound a lot like /oo/ and /ee/ which is maybe why people add an extra vowel to them. Pure sounds aid blending, so yes, I think we should teach them. The Sounds Write program does emphasise this, and the correct production of single phonemes generally, and I think many other programs are now emphasising this now too.

  11. […] by Debbie Hepplewhite, of Phonics International. Another excellent resource is this one from Spelfabet. Both of these have short video demonstrations so you can hear how phonemes are […]

  12. […] update: If you want to hear how to produce each sound crisply, there are videos of each sound in this blog post. Note that the speaker (my adorable niece) has an Australian accent so there might be a few […]

  13. […] in Stephan’s life clearly need a lesson in how to say phonemes crisply and correctly (see my blog post here for videos relevant to Australian English), and perhaps also how to teach blending (here’s a […]

  14. Marjorie Dunn says:

    Yes. I love that I can project these super-short videos and have students watch a large image! The short i one doesn’t sound like a short i to me, and I hear a schwa with many of these. I do struggle to make the /r/ sound without a very short vowel sound slipping in there. “They” say it can be done…. hmmm.

  15. Marjorie Dunn says:

    Agreed. I also just now (wow- took a long time) to figure out the difference between a voiced /x/ and unvoiced /x/ and making the connection that usually an “ex” that is not followed by a “c” sounds more like “eggs”, as in exert. There are exceptions though.

  16. Jayne says:

    Hi, can I embed these clips into a PowerPoint?

    • alison says:

      I don’t mind as long as you acknowledge the source, but I have no idea how you download them. Could you just record your own mouth saying the sounds? Alison

  17. I didn’t go through all of them, though I intend to. However, I as in pin, gym, .. sounded more like a long e. Then I noticed that these were made in Australia so I realized that it’s a regional difference in pronunciation.

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