You’re teaching your child the letters. This is an easy-to-understand guide for parents about the difference between consonants and vowels.
You’re ready to teach your child to read. You sit down with them and say “A is a vowel.”
Your child looks to you asking, “What is a vowel?”
You realize you don’t really know what are the differences between consonants and vowels.
Don’t worry! I got you covered. This blog post will give you the basic information you need to teach your child consonants and vowels.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
What are consonants and vowels?
Both consonants and vowels are sounds – not letters. Most people think they are letters because that’s what we were taught in school
It’s important to remember that written English is a code of letters that represent, or spell, speech sounds. Written language in only about 5,000 years old. But people have been using spoken language to communicate for over 200,000 years.
The 44 sounds in English can be broken into two main categories:
Consonants are the sounds where the breath is cut off or blocked while talking.
Vowels are not blocked when pronounced. Vowels help our language to flow.
Words in English must have a vowel. Additionally, each syllable has a vowel in longer words.
All 44 phonemes, or sounds, are either voiced or unvoiced. This means vocal cords vibrate, or buzz, when you say a voiced sound.
Try saying the words bath and bathe with your hand on your throat. Notice how your vocal cords buzz when you say bathe.
In English, 25 of the 44 sounds are usually considered to be consonants. There is still variation in different dialects of English so some people might say there are 42 sounds and some hear 45 distinct sounds.
Just keep in mind that your dialect of English will influence how you hear and say consonant sounds.
Consonant sounds are made differently than one another based on:
- how they are said
- where they are said
This means some consonants are:
- made with the vocal cords or made without the vocal cords
- produced in different spots in the mouth
- use distinct parts of the mouth (like tongue, teeth, and lips)
Consonants are generally divided into two categories:
- single letter consonants
- consonant digraphs
Single Letter Consonants
Some examples of single-letter consonants are:
A consonant digraph is when one sound is spelled with two written letters.
Some examples of consonant digraphs are
When most people hear, “What are vowels?” they will answer:
“a,e, i, o, u and sometimes y”
The truth is those are vowel letters but not vowel sounds. There are actually 19 vowel sounds in English.
Again it is really important to emphasize that your dialect will affect how you pronounce these words.
These are the first vowels we teach to children. The five short vowels are:
The long vowels can use the same letters but are pronounced like the letter’s name. They are written with a straight line across called a macron or a capital letter:
There are other types of vowels, too. They include Bossy-R Vowels and Diphthongs.
You can read about them in the blog post: Phonics Sounds List.
List of Consonants and Vowels
When many people ask about consonants and vowels, they are asking for a list of consonants and vowels in the alphabet. The letters below are consonants and vowels.
These are important. It’s the first step in how to teach phonics step-by-step.
But, these letters only make up 23 of the sounds. You need to know all 44 phonemes in the English language to teach your child to read.
List of Consonants
The consonants in the alphabet are b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z.
But it is important to remember that sometimes consonant letters are vowel sounds like ow in the word cow.
List of Vowels
The vowels in the alphabet are a, e, i, o, and u.
Is Y a consonant or a vowel?
Y sometimes spells vowel sounds like in myth, fly, and baby. Y also spells the consonant sound /y/ like in yo-yo.
Teaching Consonants and Vowels
When you are teaching consonants and vowels to children, show them how it feels in their mouth. Explain that consonants are short sounds and vowels can be made for a long time.
Once you show your child the letters, one really helpful strategy is to use color. I print the vowels on a different color of paper for my sound flashcards.
This makes the difference very visual for children. It also highlights how every word must have a vowel.
I also like to use letter magnets that show the difference between consonants and vowels with red and blue color coding.
Junior Learning also has a really cool set of magnets that has vowel teams together like ee and ow.
Need More Help with the 44 Sounds?
This is exactly what I teach parents (and some teachers) in Sound School. Not do you learn the sounds, I explain more about how they are made.
Then I teach you how to teach your own child:
- using a simple 5 minute sound review process
- how to read words with these sounds
- how to use the sounds to spell
Resources for Consonants and Vowels
You might need some more resources to teach your child consonants and vowels. Or you might want to learn more about English. Check out these resources.
The Everything Alphabet printables are perfect for introducing letter names to your child. A lot of schools teach “Letter of the Week” but that’s not as effective as cycling through the alphabet a bunch of times.
This is a comprehensive and complete alphabet curriculum helps you teach your child:
- letter names,
- letter sounds (including short and long vowels),
- letter recognition in different fonts and sizes
- includes systematic fine motor practice (cutting, tracing, coloring, pencil grip)
Check out the Everything Alphabet in the Printable Parents’ Shop.
Books about English
These books are meant for teachers, not parents. If you are a homeschooling parent, or you need to DIY reading tutoring at home, you might want to check these out.
I consulted these books in the writing of this blog post: