What is phonological awareness and why is it important?

Phonological awareness is the ability to notice, break apart and put back together the spoken parts of sentences and words. Skills include counting the number of words in a sentence. For example, “Isabelle adores pepperoni pizza,” has the same number of words as the sentence “I like to run,” yet they sound very different.

It also includes identifying the number of syllables in a word. Ask your child to clap in rhythm to the number of syllables in the word “celebration” and then clap the syllables in “party”. Which one has more syllables? Did you know it’s the vowel sound that produces a syllable? That awareness of language is referred to as phonology

Phonological awareness even includes reciting fun tongue twisters, like Sally Sells Seashells, or asking your child whether the words “pig” and “wig” rhyme. Take rhyming one step further and ask your child to produce a word that rhymes. This is a much more difficult task and takes lots of practice. Ask your child, “Did you know that there are some words that have no rhyme, like ‘orange’ and “purple”? That’s okay! Make up some silly words, like ‘porange’ and ‘twirple’.”

Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness

What is phonemic awareness and why is it important?

Phonemic awareness is a bit more specific. Although it is included in the larger category of phonological awareness, it is the ability to notice, identify, and manipulate individual speech sounds in a spoken word. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in speech, regardless of the number of letters it takes to produce the sound. For example, in the word “cat” there are three phonemes; the same as in the word “laugh”.  

Phonemic awareness is critical in reading because it includes blending sounds together to read and breaking a word into sounds to spell the word. This is called segmenting.   If we can get rid of specific sounds or switching sounds in spoken words, it can help children with sequencing — or saying sounds in the correct order — and better processing of what they read later on. For example, separating the sounds /c/, /a/, and /t/ in the word “cat”, and then changing the /c/ in cat to /m/ and recognizing that you now have the word “mat”, are examples of phonemic awareness activities. 

You and your child can also make up silly new words to help think about sounds and the sequence. How about saying a silly word like “cloop” or “winnupshoe”?  Can your child repeat that silly word? Have fun with it!  

Phonological awareness pertains to groups of sounds in syllables, words, or sentences, while phonemic awareness focuses on the individual sounds heard in spoken words. 

Research has shown that a child’s phonological and phonemic awareness skills are good predictors of later reading success!

Interested in helping your child improve their phonological awareness? Try this at home activity. Want more phonological awareness practice? Our new program, EarlyBird at Home includes comprehensive reading intervention for children ages 4-9 years old to improve their phonological awareness skills.

Janice Weissinger
Janice Weissinger is a Reading Specialist who specializes in the treatment and early intervention of Dyslexia. She is also a second grade teacher. Janice is an OG certified tutor and specializes in helping parents advocate for their child within the public school setting.

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