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Uh! What's the Schwa Phonics Sound?

When I first read about the schwa phonics sound - I thought "uh? - What on earth is all this about! Have I missed something?" So I did my usual extensive phonics research with books and websites and discovered that 'schwa' is actually the name given to one of the 44 phonic sounds.

What does schwa sound like?

It took me quite a while to hear the difference between a short /u/ sound andthe schwa /uh/ sound - here are some points whichmay help you.  The schwa sound is very similar the the short /u/sound, but it is softer or weaker.  The schwa phonics sound is the /uh/ sound of a vowel in an unstressedsyllable.

Here are some words which will help you 'hear' the schwa phonics sound. (please note dialect will always be an issue - I am from the UK now living in NZ- but someone from say Ireland may not pronounce these words the same asme.)    Schwa says the short /uh/ sound in:

  • the first vowel sound in /about/
  • the vowel sound in /but/
  • the last sound in /the/

Interesting facts about the Schwa sound!

  • It is the only phoneme with its own name.
  • It is the most common vowel sound in spoken English.
  • It is often referred to as the 'third sound' of the single vowel sounds.
  • It is represented by the linguistic upside down 'e' symbol.
  • All the vowels can be used to spell the schwa sound.
  • The schwa word comes from an ancient  Hebrew word which means 'emptiness or  no vowel sound'

Do you need to teach the schwa sound?

Good question! Well, since it is the most common vowel sound in our English language, then yes it makes sense to teach it. When I am teaching Caleb the phonic sounds, I do not say "This is the schwa sound" - goodness how confusing would that be for a 5yr old!

No, I simply introduce it to him when I am using the phonogram flashcards that have the 'uh' sound.

At this stage he does not need to know that this sound is called the 'schwa' sound - he just needs to know the sound it makes!

what phonograms make the schwa phonics sound?

Other Phonics Sounds:

vowel sounds

consonant sounds




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