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Phonemic Awareness: What Is It, and Why Do People Talk About It?

Parents often hear speech, language, hearing and reading professionals use the term phonemic awareness. The term phonemic awareness refers to the knowledge that words are made up of sounds, and that sounds can be manipulated to form words, make new words, and even be added to make the meaning slightly different. For example, most children know (even though they are not consciously aware) that if they add a /s/ or /z/ sound to the end of a noun, they mean more than one. Phonemic awareness is knowing that if I say the word "rack" and I add the /t/ sound to the beginning of the word, I have formed the word "track." Similarly, it is knowing that if the short sound of the letter /a/ were changed to the short sound of the letter /u/, the word "truck" would be formed.

Phonemic awareness is essential for the development of literacy skills. It isn't hard to understand why. We know that children learn reading using an organized, structured phonics approach. We know that phonics programs require a child to understand the connection between sounds and symbols. If a child does not have a consistent mental representation for a sound, s/he will not be able to attach a symbol to it. Furthermore, once a sound-symbol connection has been made, s/he has to be able to blend those sounds. Let's say a child is reading the word "hat". S/He has to take the sounds /h/-/short a/-unaspirated /t/, blend them together to make the sound sequence /hat/ and then read the word "hat". If a child knows how to read and spell the word "hat", and s/he sees "hit", s/he has to be able to substitute the short a with the short i, and figure out what this new word is. Then, if the beginning letter was changed from /h/ to /s/, and the beginning sound was likewise changed, we have a new word, "sit".

So how can parents facilitate their child's phonemic awareness? One activity is similar to "The Name Game" song, in which the first sound in a word is changed. Pick a word and ask your child to change the first sound. "Say house…now change the first sound /h/ to /m/." Another activity is to say a word and together with your child, count the sounds in that word. "Say boat" "Now let's count the sounds in that word, "b (1 finger), o (long o, holding up a second finger) and t (holding up a third finger.) Three, there are three sounds in the word "boat". These are just a few ideas that can be helpful to your child.

In sum, phonemic awareness is necessary to connect a sound to a symbol, to blend those sounds, and then to read them either aloud or silently. Well developed phonemic awareness is considered to be an important underpinning of reading and all language arts.

Article Index

CAPD (also called APD) testing

CAPD Therapy

Causes of Hearing Loss in Children?

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Cochlear Implants: Could this help your child with a hearing impairment?

Early Developmental Milestones for Language

Enriching Your Child's Vocabulary

From Speaking to Writing: How to Help Your Child Write Short Sequences

Helping Your Child Learn to Read

Home Treatment for Language Delayed Kids

How Stuttering is Treated, and What You Can Do to Help

How to Crack the Tough Nut of English Spelling

Is It Normal Disfluency or Stuttering in Preschoolers

Lyme Disease and Language Disorders

Multisensory Approaches to Teaching Decoding: What Does That Mean

PECS: A Communication System for Children on the Autistic Spectrum

Phonemic Awareness: What Is It, and Why Do People Talk About It

Simple Strategies for Creating Strong Readers

Speech Vitamins: do they work?

Techniques for Improving Your Child's Literacy Skills

Testing Procedures for Speech, Language and Reading Disorders

The Connection Between Word Retrieval Difficulties (language) and Reading Disorders (literacy)

Using Literacy Activities to Increase Your Child's Knowledge of Current Events and History

Vocal Hygiene ? the DOs and DON'Ts of Maintaining a Healthy Voice

Voice Disorders

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)?

What are the Causes of Articulation Disorders in Children?

What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)?

What is Dyslexia?

What is Language Delay in Children?

What is the Connection Between Auditory Processing Disorder and Reading?

When to Seek an Evaluation for a Young Child's Speech Production