Yesterday's post focused on phonemes, the smallest unit of sound in spoken language. Today we focus on phonemic awareness, a related concept. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds – phonemes – in spoken words. This is a critical stage in a child’s literacy development.
Why is Phonemic Awareness Important?
Phonemic awareness is essential for learning to read. If you don’t have strong phonemic awareness skills you cannot decode words. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that a child’s phonemic awareness ability is a strong predictor of success in learning to read and spell. Children who are unable to identify and manipulate the sounds within spoken words typically have difficulty mapping sounds to print and therefore struggle with reading and spelling. The good news is that phonemic awareness can be explicitly taught. Directly teaching children how to hear, recognize, and manipulate the individual sounds in words typically has a positive effect on a child’s reading and spelling skills.
It is important for you to know that there is a developmental trajectory to phonemic awareness, which means that there are easy phonemic awareness tasks, and ones that are more difficult. Children will be able to complete the easier tasks before being successful with more advanced phonemic awareness activities. For example, identifying a word that matches a target phoneme (e.g., which word starts with /f/: fish or dish?) is much easier than asking a child to substitute the phonemes in a word (if you change the /f/ in fish to a /d/ sound, what word do you have?)