How do you know if a vowel in English is long or short? Here are five simple decoding strategies for ESL students. Although these reading strategies apply to only one-syllable words, these strategies can be applied on the syllable-level in multi-syllabic words. (See my blog post on decoding multi-syllabic words here.)
1) If there is one consonant after the vowel, the vowel will be short. (Examples: an, pet, big, hot, cup)
2) If two consonants follow the vowel, the vowel will be short. (Examples: ant, rent, mist, cost, crust)
3) If the vowel stands alone, the vowel is long. (Examples: me, hi, go)
4) If an E is at the end of the word and it is preceded by another vowel, the E at the end of the word is silent and the first vowel is long. Silent E makes the first vowel long. (Examples: name, Pete, fine, home, cute or dune)
5) If two vowels are adjacent (next to each other), the second vowel is silent, making the first vowel long. (Examples: main, dream, lied, road, fruit)
NOTE: It is important to clarify that the terms "long" vowel and "short" vowel do not indicte the length of the vowel, but rather the sound of the vowel. In linguistic contexts, the terms "long" and "short" are referred to as "tense" and "lax" vowels, respectively. Clarify this point to your ESOL students as you deem necessary.