Phonological Awareness Description

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:

— best defined as the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds inside spoken words.

–essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes. Without phonological or phonemic awareness, phonemes are not heard and so phonics make little sense.

— fundamental to mapping speech to print. If a child cannot hear that “man” and “moon” begin with the same sound or cannot blend sounds, he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.

— a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success. A proxy for phonological awareness skills in pre-K children is rhyming — it is widely acknowledged that early rhyming skills, or a lack thereof, are the single best predictor of reading skills later on.

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.

Phonemic vs. Phonological Awareness
Phonological awareness is a broad term that describes a dexterity in processing sounds in syllables or in the smallest sound units, phonemes. Phonemic awareness describes the ability to hear phonemes, e.g., to know 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 an essential reading skill, but 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) are “coarticulated,” i.e., they are not distinctly separate from each other.

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

Definitions of Key Phonological Awareness Terminology

A phoneme is a speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning.

Phonemic Awareness:
The ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992; see References). Phonemic awareness involves hearing language at the phoneme level.

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 code (sound-symbol relationships) to recognize words.

Phonological Awareness: 
The ability to hear and manipulate the sound structure of language. This is an encompassing term that involves working with the sounds of language at the word, syllable, and phoneme level.

Continuous Sound:
A sound that can be prolonged (stretched out) without distortion (e.g., r, s, a, m).

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.

The separation of words into phonemes.

What Does the Lack of Phonemic Awareness Look Like?

Children lacking phonemic awareness skills cannot:

  • group words with similar and dissimilar sounds (mat, mug, sun)
  • blend and split syllables (f_oot)
  • blend sounds into words (m_a_n)
  • segment a word as a sequence of sounds (e.g., fish is made up of three phonemes, /f/ , /i/, /sh/)
  • detect and manipulate sounds within words (change r in run to s).

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)

There is considerable evidence that the primary difference between good and poor readers lies in the good reader’s phonological processing ability. This in turn requires sound auditory processing skills.

“Reading and phonemic awareness are mutually reinforcing: Phonemic awareness is necessary for reading, and reading, in turn, improves phonemic awareness still further.” (Shaywitz, 2003, see References)