Since we work with a lot of reading problems in our clinic, phonemic awareness is a term we use a great deal. Phonemic awareness is a key component to learning how to read, so we thought it might be a good idea to cover the basics of phonemic awareness.
First off, what’s a phoneme? It seems like it would be important to know what a phoneme is if we need to be aware of it.
A phoneme, in short, is a speech sound that is the smallest unit of language. The English language is comprised of 26 letters, the alphabet, but approximately 44 phonemes. Phonemes are not syllables – syllables are a whole other concept in reading. The phonemes have no inherent meaning, but it is essential to know the phonemes (by sound) to become an efficient reader.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate the difference between syllables and phonemes since this is often very confusing to parents. The word “dog” is comprised of only one syllable, which is very commonly understood /dog/, but it is comprised of three (3) phonemes: /d/ /o/ /g/. Being aware of and able to manipulate those individual phonemes is critical for future reading skill development.
That’s where phonemic awareness comes in.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds of spoken language (Yopp, 1992). Young children build this awareness through listening to spoken language. This skill comes fairly naturally to most children, but certainly not all.
We often encourage parents to read to their young children for the very reason of building this awareness. This activity benefits the child in two ways, however. One is to help build the phonemic awareness, the second is to nurture the parent-child bond. When parents read to their children, it’s a win-win outcome.
We also recommend parents engage in rhyming games or reading books that use rhyming heavily, such as the classic Dr. Seuss books.
Phonemic awareness is the first step along the way to becoming a reader, or at least, an efficient reader. The next step in the process is understanding the alphabetic principle.
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