Phonological Awareness & Phonemic Awareness

Definition And How These Skills Impact Reading

phonological awarenessA lack of phonological awareness skills predicts future fluency and reading comprehension problems. It is important to understand the source of your child’s phonological difficulties and what can be done.

Definition of Phonological Awareness
Phonological awareness is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability and has, therefore, been the focus of much research

Phonemic Awareness vs. Phonological Awareness
While phonological awareness is a broad term, phonemic awareness describes the ability to hear phonemes, the sounds that make up words.  Phonemic awareness is the essential reading skill, used to map spoken language to text, e.g.,  to recognize that “cat” has three phonemes: /c/ /a/  /t/.

Phonemic awareness is important:

  • It primes readers for reading text, which requires readers to know letter sounds.
  • It gives readers a way to approach sounding out and reading new words.
  • It helps readers understand the alphabetic principle, i.e., that words are made up of multiple sounds, each represented by a letter or letter combination.

phonemic-awareness-phPhonemic awareness is not easy:

  • There are approximately 40 phonemes or sound units.
  • Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings (e.g., /f/ as in ph, f, gh, ff).
  • These sound units (phonemes) over-lap, i.e., they are not distinctly different.

Phonological Awareness Must Be Automatic

If a reader is distracted by the mechanics of decoding, reading comprehension is compromised. The brain can learn to decode automatically, but this requires sound phonological awareness.

Most struggling readers have difficulties with phonological awareness skills such as:

  • Identifying rhyming words
  • Perceiving the difference between similar sounds (for example, m and n)
  • Identifying the first sound in a word
  • Remembering the sequence of sounds in a word
  • Blending sounds together to form words

The Gemm Learning reading software takes a sequential approach, starting with phonological awareness, not unlike the natural learning steps followed by skilled readers who “get” reading without needing much instruction or intervention.

Definitions of Phonological Awareness Terminology

A phoneme is a speech sound — it has no inherent meaning.

Phonemic Awareness:
The ability to hear language at the phoneme level, i..e, to hear the individual sounds that make up words.

Auditory Processing:
Auditory processing is the cognitive skill used to detect and manipulate sound. Most phonological awareness deficits stem from a weakness in auditory processing.
Auditory processing disorder and difficulties

Use of the text to break down and recognize words.

Phonological Awareness: 
This is a broad term that covers processing sounds of language at the word, syllable, and phoneme level.

The onset is the part of the word before the vowel; not all words have onsets. The rime is the part of the word including the vowel and what follows it.

What Does the Lack of Phonemic Awareness Look Like?

If a child lacks phonemic awareness he cannot:

  • group words with similar sounds (bun, sun)
  • break words into syllables (look_ing)
  • join sounds to make words (c_a_t)
  • break words down into a sequence of phonemes (e.g., dash is made up of three phonemes: /d/ /a/ /sh/)
  • manipulate sounds within words (change r in rush to b).

Phonemic Awareness research says:

“The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness).” (Lyon, 1995; see References)

This is phonological processing ability, which in turn requires sound auditory processing skills.  The most pronounced and consistent difference between good readers and struggling readers is their phonological awareness skills.  Children with auditory processing problems tend to encounter reading problems either at the decoding stage or later in comprehension, where the inefficiencies in decoding interfere –compete for concentration – with comprehension.