Learn to Read in English

Learn to Read in English

Are you teaching someone to read in English? If so, this post is for you and your student(s). Use it to outline the some of the most basic and important English reading rules, exemplify them with ample words, and encourage your student(s) to practice reading with the exercise we’ve compiled. Happy teaching!

Refer to “English Phonetic Symbols” if necessary.

Silent letters

  • 1. Silent “e”: when a word ends with a silent “e,” it usually makes the preceding vowel say its name. For example: cake, kite, home, theme, use. The bold letters are all read as they are in the alphabet: /ei/, /ai/, /əʊ/, /iː/ and /juː/.
  • Silent “h”: some words have a silent “h” at the beginning. For example: hour /aʊər/, honest /ˈɒnɪst/, ghost /ɡəʊst/, honor /ˈɒnər/, vehicle /ˈviːɪkl/.
  • Silent “k”: the letter “k” is often silent before “n” at the beginning of a word. For example: knee /niː/, knife /naɪf/, know /nəʊ/, knit /nɪt/, knob /nɒb/.
  • Silent “b“: in some words, the letter “b” is silent after “m.” For example: comb /kəʊm/, lamb /læm/, thumb /θʌm/, tomb /tm/, doubt /daʊt/.

Why is the letter “o” pronounced as “u” in the word “tomb”?

That’s due to a historical sound change in the English language. In Middle English, the vowel “o” was pronounced as a short “u” sound. Over time, the pronunciation of “o” evolved, but in some words, like “tomb”, the original Middle English pronunciation was retained. Therefore, we continue to pronounce “o” as “u” in “tomb” as a remnant of that historical pronunciation pattern.

What is Middle English?

Middle English refers to the stage of the English language that was spoken from approximately the 11th century to the 15th century. It developed after Old English and preceded Modern English. During the Middle English period, English underwent significant changes in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. It was influenced by Norman French after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Middle English texts include works by famous writers like Geoffrey Chaucer.

  • Silent “w”: the letter “w” is silent before “r” at the beginning of a word. For example: wrinkle /ˈrɪŋkl/, write /raɪt/, wrestle /ˈresl/, wrong /rɒŋ/, wring /rɪŋ/.

Short & long vowels

  • Short vowels: when a vowel is followed by a consonant, it usually makes its short sound. For example: cat /kæt/, sit /sɪt/, top /tɒp/, cup /kʌp/, bed /bed/.
  • Long vowels: vowels have long sounds when they appear in specific patterns like “ee,” “oa,” “ea,” etc. For example: creak, feel, deal, team, shoe.

The letter combination “ea” can be pronounced in different ways: 1. /iː/: eat, bean, tea; 2. /e/: bread, dead, head; 3. /ei/: great, steak, break.

  • Short vowels in stressed syllables: when a vowel is in a stressed syllable, it usually makes its short sound. For example: begin /bɪˈɡɪn/, within /wɪˈðɪn/, limit /ˈlɪm.ɪt/, subject /ˈsʌb.dʒekt/, western /ˈwes.tən/.

Consonant sounds

  • “C” and “g” sounds: the letter “c” makes a soft “s” sound when followed by “e,” “i” or “y,” and a hard “k” sound in other cases. The letter “g” make a soft “j” sound when followed by “e,” “i” or “y,” and a hard “g” sound in other cases. For example: city /ˈsɪt̬.i/, cell /sel/, cynical /ˈsɪn.ɪ.kəl/, game /ɡeɪm/, gap /ɡæp/, gel /dʒel/, gist /dʒɪst/, gym /dʒɪm/.
  • “Ch” and “sh” sounds: the letter combination “ch” usually makes a /tʃ/ sound, and “sh” makes a /ʃ/ sound. For example: chin /tʃɪn/, much /mʌtʃ/, ship /ʃɪp/, wish /wɪʃ/, rush /rʌʃ/.
  • “Th” sounds: the letter combination “th” can make two different sounds: /θ/ and /ð/. For example: thick /θɪk/, path /pæθ/, there /ðeər/, they /ðeɪ/, with /wɪð/.
  • “Ph” sounds: the letter combination “ph” makes an “f” sound. For example: nephew /ˈnef.juː/, alphabet /ˈæl.fə.bet/, dolphin /ˈdɑːl.fɪn/, phone /fəʊn/, photo /ˈfəʊ.təʊ/.

It’s important to remember that when it comes to reading in English, there can be significant variation in the way words are pronounced due to regional differences. For example, British and American English may have different pronunciations for certain words. But the rules above basically apply to both British and American English.


Here your student(s) can do a reading exercise focusing on silent letters.

Did you like this port? Was it useful for your students and their reading abilities? Would you need exercises on the other rules too? Be sure to like this post and subscribe to our blog for more content like this. We might write another post on other reading rules in the future. 😉

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