A phoneme is the short speech sound in a word. For example, the word ‘cap’ has three speech sounds – c/a/p, the word ‘clap’ has four sounds – c /l/a/p.
However, the English language has 44 phonemes (sounds) and some of these have more than one letter to represent one sound, e.g. ai as in rain, oa as in road, and igh as in high – this is just a small example.
Using the example of the vowel digraph such as ‘ai’ in the word ‘rain’ – the word rain has three phonemes – r/ai/n, the word ‘train’ has four – t/r/ai/n.
This seems quite straight forward but where the difficulty arises is when a child fails to learn some of the phonemes. So for example if they don’t know that ‘ai’ is one sound they will try to read it as two separate sounds.
To make things even more complicated we have the same letters representing different sounds, e.g. ow as in cow, how, now, or as in flow, snow, blow, and to complicate things further you can have the same sound spelt in different ways, such as ow and ough bow and bough. You can see where I’m going with this. It seems quite complicated until you know and understand the code.