What is phonological awareness?
- What symptoms to look for.
- Why it is the most critical of reading skills.
Phonological Awareness Description
Definition And How These Skills Impact Reading
A lack of phonological awareness skills predict 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.
Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord software to exercise phonological awareness for reading and learning. The software takes a sequential approach, not unlike the natural learning steps followed by skilled readers who "get" reading without needing much instruction or intervention.
Reading programs overview
Phonemic vs. Phonological Awareness
A description of phonemic vs phonological awareness requires these distinctions:
---- Phonemic awareness is NOT phonics.
---- Phonemic awareness is NOT auditory processing, a cognitive skill.
---- Phonemic awareness IS AUDITORY and does not involve words in print.
Phonological awareness is by definition a broad term that describes a dexterity in processing sounds in whole syllables, or in the smallest components, or phonemes. Phonemic awareness describes the ability to hear every sound inside a word, 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 notice how letters represent 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.
And so it is clear that phonemic awareness is an essential reading skill, but it is not easy:
• Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sound units.
• Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings (e.g., /f/ as in ph, f, gh, ff).
Spelling help through better phonological awareness skills
• The sound units (phonemes) are not inherently obvious and must be taught. The sounds that make up words are "coarticulated" that is, they are not distinctly separate from each other.
Phonological Awareness Must Be Automatic
Reading and listening comprehension require complete automaticity in decoding and in listening. If a reader is distracted by the mechanics of decoding, reading comprehension is compromised. The brain can learn to decode automatically, but this requires complete language dexterity, i.e., sound phonological awareness.
Many of the children who struggle to acquire reading skills 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
Breaking words into syllables
Definitions of Key Phonological Awareness Terminology
A phoneme is a speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning.
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 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.
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.
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.
The effects of training phonological awareness skills and learning to read are mutually supportive. "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)