What is a syllable and why we should teach children about it

What is a syllable and why we should teach children about it

A syllable is a part of a word that contains sounds (phonemes) of a word. It usually has a vowel in it. A syllable is also called a ‘beat’ and teachers often teach children to identify syllables by clapping the ‘beats’ in words. Another way to describe a syllable is a ‘mouthful’ of a word.

You can often find the syllables in a word if you notice when you open and close your mouth as you pronounce the word. Touch your chin as you say the word ‘elephant’. How many times did your chin drop? You probably pronounced the syllables like this: ‘e-le-phant’ and your chin would have dropped three times.

Here are examples of syllables within words:
‘lake’ – has one syllable
‘pa-per’ – has two syllables
‘en-er-gy – has three syllables
‘cal-cu-la-tor’ – has four syllables
‘comm-u-ni-ca-tion – has five syllables
‘res-pon-si-bi-li-ty’ – has six syllables
The word with most syllables in English is: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
Pneu-mo-no-ul-tra-mi-cro-sco-pic-si-li-co-vol-ca-no-co-ni-o-sis (19 syllables)
This is an invented word that means a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust

Why should we teach children how to split words into syllables?

More than 80% of words in English have more than one syllable.  It is much easier to read a new, unfamiliar word in chunks than to try to sound out all the letters in one long, continuous string.  This is because we need to hold onto the sounds in short term memory as we blend the word together before we can recognise it.  Chunks are easier to hold on to than lots of small bits of information.  It is easier and more accurate to spell a long word if you try to spell it in chunks of syllables rather than trying to remember all the letters separately.   This skill is especially important for children who struggle with reading and spelling.

As children progress through their education, many subject words particularly in the sciences, have long words that have Latin or Greek origins.  So, all students including secondary and university students would benefit from learning how to read and spell using syllables.




    1. This depends on where you are. Syllable types are taught in the USA but not in the UK. In the UK we find that if we teach children how to split words into syllables for reading and spelling – there is no need to teach what type of syllables they are.

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