Phonemic awareness is a measure of a reader’s ability to manipulate the sounds in words. Sub-skills of phonemic awareness include, blending sounds, segmenting sounds, adding and deleting sounds, and rhyming words. Research has shown that Phonemic Awareness skills are a reliable early indicator of reading readiness and future reading ability in young children.
Phonemes are the smallest bit of sound in a word. We combine phonemes to make a word. A reader needs to be aware that a word consists of individual phonemes.
For example, the word “cat” has 3 distinct phonemes /c/ /a/ and /t/. A reader needs to be able to blend these 3 sounds to form the word “cat”.
A reader also needs to be able to segment, or pull apart, the sounds from “cat” to /c/ /a/ /t/. Segmenting a word into the individual sounds can be very difficult for readers with an auditory processing difficulty, autism, dyslexia, and a host of other learning differences. Segmenting words into sounds can be learned with the appropriate practice.
Another sub-skill needed for effective phonemic awareness is the ability to rhyme words. In order to rhyme, you have to delete one or more phonemes, and then add a new phoneme. For example, look at the two words, “fat” and “cat”. You need to be able to delete the /f/ sound in fat, then add the /c/ sound in its place, then blend the three sounds into a new word. While this is very natural and easy for some people, others will find it very difficult.
Phonemic Awareness Uses Hearing not Seeing
Phonemic Awareness skills are practiced orally, not visually. The reader needs to hear and manipulate spoken sounds. So, can the reader make rhyming words such as fat and cat? Can the reader blend the sounds /c/ /a/ /t/ into “cat”, and segment sounds “cat” into /c/ /a/ /t/? These are the easiest phonemic awareness skills.
Deleting and adding sounds in the middle and end of a word are more advanced phonemic awareness skills and come next. Can the reader delete the /m/ from man and tell you what is left (an)? Next, can the reader replace the /a/ in “man” with /e/ and tell you the word (men)? Finally,can he replace the /n/ sound in “men” with the /t/ sound (met) and tell you the word? These are all skills in phonemic awareness which will help the reader to read and write words.
Phonemes in Language Development
Phonemic Awareness skills can be practiced at a very young age. This is how language skills are developed in the early years of development. A young child will hear and copy sounds such as /m/ /ah/ /mah/, /p/ /ah/ /pah/.
The child perfects one sound and then will move on to the next sound. Eventually, the child can produce and manipulate all the sounds in his native tongue, usually before he begins formal schooling. Incidentally, there are approximately 46 phonemes in the English language.
Now the person must take the sound he already knows and connect a symbol or letter to that sound. This is where phonics comes into play.