Depending on your dialect, you may pronounce words with /ä/ as in caught or law and /ŏ/ cot or bomb the same. These two sounds are part of what is called the cot-caught merger. The third sound of a sounds more like /ŏ/ in some dialects. Dialectal variations reflect regional and international differences in pronunciation.
As with many English vowels, because there is more than one spelling for this sound, it may be difficult for students to know which phonogram to use when spelling words.
Tips for Spelling Similar Sounds
You may find the following tips beneficial for spelling words with the broad /ä/ and short /ŏ/:
- Cue students with say-to-spell if the word is spelled differently than you pronounce it. You may need to slow down and exaggerate the pronunciation of the individual sounds to help you pronounce them with the target sound.
- Ask your student to repeat the word using the say-to-spell pronunciation. Remind your student that they do not need to change the way they say the word in conversation. These activities are only to help with spelling.
- Cue your student with the phonogram if you find it difficult to pronounce the sounds differently. For example, in the word cot, you would cue by saying "use /ŏ-ō-ö/." In the word caught, you would cue by saying "use /ä-ăf/." Adding finger cues will also help students see how many letters are in the target phonogram.
- Listen to tricky words being pronounced using an online dictionary to illustrate the difference by an unfamiliar speaker.
Differences Between Broad A and Short O in Isolation
If you pronounce /ä/ and /ŏ/ differently, you may notice your mouth is in a slightly different position for each sound. Both /ä/ and /ŏ/ are considered low-back vowels because of the tongue's position in the mouth. For /ä/, our lips are slightly rounded and open. In contrast, in /ŏ/ our lips are not rounded and are open wide. It may be helpful to have students feel their cheeks and lips when making these two sounds to feel the difference. You can see these differences in video clips of each phonogram on our interactive phonogram chart.