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How many times have you heard teachers talking about phonics and speech-language pathologists talking about phonemes? Then, both groups start talking about phonological awareness? This has happened so frequently that sometimes they get muddied up in my brain. If this has ever happened to you too, I want to help all of us understand these important terms.
Definitions and Differences
- Phonological Awareness refers to the development of different phonological components of spoken language (Lane & Pullen, 2004, p. 6). Students who have strong phonological awareness recognize when words rhyme. They notice syllable and word patterns. Having phonological awareness skills is directly related to reading ability. The fact that poor readers have weak phonological awareness skills doesn’t surprise me. Phonological awareness skills include:
- Rhyming (similar word endings)
- Alliteration (similar word beginnings)
- Syllable, Word, and Sentence Segmentation (taking everything apart)
- Onsets and Rimes (beginning and endings of words – “Rime” is not misspelled. It is a term used in reading instruction.)
- Phonemes (individual sounds)
- Phonemic Awareness refers to the knowledge about a phoneme and an individual’s ability to detect, blend, segment, and manipulate individual sounds in words. As speech-language pathologists, we know that a phoneme is just one sound. There are 41 phonemes in English that we use to combine into syllables and words when we speak. How important is a phoneme? It is just one sound and is the smallest level of speech production. But according to reading experts, phonemic awareness is actually the highest level of phonological abilities. They say that it develops after children learn to manipulate words and syllables. Children who lack phonemic awareness will have trouble learning phonics and decoding. This deficiency appears when they need to sound out and blend letters to form new words. Phonemic awareness skills include:
- Phoneme blending (putting sounds together to make a spoken word)
- Phoneme segmentation (when given a spoken word, a student can segment it into individual phonemes)
- Phoneme manipulation (manipulating a phoneme to make a new word in a word family)
- Phonics refers to the teaching of letter-sound associations and the letter patterns used to spell words (Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998 p.51). Phonics instruction assumes that the student has phonemic awareness. Also, it assumes that the student has the alphabetic principle. The alphabetic principle refers to understanding that there are consistent relationships between letter symbols and letter sounds.
Strong Foundation of Oral Language
All of these skills are built on a strong foundation of oral language. Wait a second, oral language is my jam as an SLP! That’s our core proficiency in our jobs as speech-language pathologists. And we also touch on phonological awareness and phonemic awareness too. I don’t do a lot of phonics because it is a reading strategy (and I’m mostly working on oral skills).
So, I’m wondering, has a teacher or principal asked you a question about what you do? Now you know you can tell them that you build your students’ oral language skills. Those skills matter so that all of your students’ phonological awareness, phoneme awareness, and phonics skills have a place to put down roots and grow.