Digraphs and diphthongs are two terms for specific types of letters and sounds in the English language. Learning these definitions improves a reader's reading and spelling confidence, and helps him to sound out unfamiliar words. Teaching digraphs and diphthongs separately is important because young children easily confuse them.
A digraph is the term used to describe two letters that come together to make one sound. That sound is separate from the sound the letters would make if they were alone. Examples of digraphs are: /ch/, as in "chin," /sh/, as in "ship," /wh/, as in "what," and /th/ as in "thin" or "that." Notice that /th/ can be soft and voiceless as in "thin," but can also be noisy as in "that" or "those."
Two vowel letters that make one sound are also called a digraph. Examples are vowels such as /ie/, /ae/, /ee/ and /oo/. Most vowel digraphs follow the rule, "If two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." That is, the first vowel makes its long sound and the other is silent.
A diphthong is made up of two vowel sounds that make a unique sound when put together, often very different from the sound each vowel makes on its own. Examples of diphthongs are, /ow/ as in "owl," /au/ as in "aura" and /oi/, like "coin." Some diphthongs have various spellings. For example, the /ou/ sound can also be spelled /ow/, and the /oi/ sound can also be spelled /oy/.
When creating a digraph sound, the mouth only moves to one position. For example, when making the /sh/ sound, the person moves her lips into a fat circle and push air out in a stream. However, when creating a diphthong sound, often the person has to move his mouth from one position to another. For example, when making the /ow/ sound, the person begins by opening the mouth wide and then changing to a small circle. Although all dipthongs do not require a change of mouth position, most do.
- Center for Development and Learning: The Difference between Digraphs and Diphthongs
- "The Reading Teacher's Survival Kit"; Wilma H. Miller, Ed.D; 2001.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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