Common Auditory Confusions


It can be difficult to help a learner with reading and spelling when either or both of you do not accurately distinguish between some of these tricky English sounds. It is time well spent --for tutor and learner alike--to focus on these basics so learners may begin the work of associating the sounds of English with the written representation. This focus on sounds comes before phonics and is termed "Phonemic Awareness".

F and TH sounds
When you make the /th/ sound, your tongue should be sticking out just a little between your front teeth. When you make the /f/ sound, an observer cannot see your tongue because your teeth are in the way. Your student must watch your mouth when you make either of these sounds.

M and N sounds
M and N are similar sounds that require your nasal passage! When you make the /m/ sound, your mouth is closed. When you make the /n/ sound, your mouth is open. Try making the /m/ sound or the /n/ sound with your nose pinched shut--it is impossible.

SH and CH sounds
The /sh/ sound is slow, like a big ship going across the ocean; and this sound can continue until you run out of breath. However, the /ch/ sound is quick, it is chopped off.

S and SH sounds
When the /s/ sound is made (as in the world Smile), your lips are smiling. When you make the /sh/ sound (as in Fish), your lips are pushed forward, like a fish.

T and CH sounds
Your lips should not move when you make the /t/ sound, but when you make the /ch/ sound, they are pushed forward. Make certain you can hear and note the difference.

L and R sounds
In the English language, L's and R's are two very complex sounds, and are the last two for most students to learn to correctly make.  For the /l/ sound, it may be better to have your student place their tongue in the proper position before they try to vocalize the sound. The /r/ sound, like in the word roar, is a plain rrrrr, not so much with a Ruh' sound. It is ok for students to make the /r/ sound when they see the letter combination er.

This information is from the Barton Reading and Spelling System. Susan Barton is a leading expert in the field of teaching reading, especially to those with dyslexia. For more information, call our literacy office at 918-549-7400.


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