Why Phonological Awareness Matters

Phonological awareness is a special kind of sound knowledge. It concerns someone’s sensitivity to and understanding of sound structures in a language. A student can recognize and manipulate sound segments in spoken words with good phonological awareness.  

A student must have basic phonological awareness skills before learning letters and decoding. Some of these skills are:  

  1. Rhyming: Prompts children to repeat sounds and patterns, reinforcing their grasp of word sounds.   
  2. Identifying Syllables: Ability to break a word into smaller pieces. An excellent way to identify syllables is to think about whether you need to change your mouth shape to say the next bit of the word / the new syllable.  
  3. Phoneme Segmentation: Phonemes are the smallest units of sound. Segmentation is a student’s ability to break apart words into sounds. It is what we do when we write a word. The teacher will say a word, and students need to spell it.   
  4. Blending: Blending tasks require the subject to synthesize phonemes into words. The teacher pronounces phonemes in isolation, and the child then blends the phonemes into a word – /c/ /a/ /t/. 
  5. Alliteration: The repeated beginning sounds of a series of words.

Research indicates that children must acquire phonemic awareness skills before learning to read. Not being able to work with these smallest units of words often leads to an inability to connect spoken and written language. This creates further challenges for students with learning differences, such as students in remedial reading and learning disabilities programs.1

Characteristics of Children with Phonemic Awareness Deficits 

Here are some of the signs of a child who has challenges with phonemes.  

  • Unable to hear the difference between sounds such as short /i/and/e/   
  • Don’t enjoy Dr. Seuss because they just don’t get it.   
  • Can’t do rhyming tasks   
  • Often mispronounce words by substituting sounds in words, such as pronouncing train as chrain (past the developmentally appropriate age)   
  • Can’t blend isolated sounds to make words. They may say /c/ /a/ /t/ = “kit”   

How to Help Your Child at Home   

  • Ensure your school’s reading program teaches sound skills like identifying sounds and letters. 
  • If your child has already passed the stage where these skills are taught in class, ensure they receive individual or small group instruction. 
  • Engage in fun activities to practice sounds:
    • Think of words together that start with the same sound, like “m” or “ch.” 
    • Create silly sentences with words that start with the same sound, for example, “Nobody was nice to Nancy’s neighbour.” 
    • Play rhyming or blending games with simple words, like “dog” by blending the sounds “/d/, /o/, /g/”. 
  • Read books with rhymes and teach your child rhymes, short poems, and songs. 
  • Practice the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them and reading alphabet books. 
  • Consider using computer programs that focus on developing sound skills. Many of these programs engage and motivate children with colourful graphics and animations.

Phonemic awareness is what allows us to anchor the sounds in a word to the written sequence of letters that represent those sounds”. This means phonemic awareness prepares students to read and write.2

Where to Get Help   

Phonemic awareness is a critical building block for developing reading and language skills. If you suspect a child may be struggling with phonemic awareness, consider a dyslexia screening evaluation. This assessment looks at a child’s phonemic awareness and ability.

Sofia Lopez Nakashima, Case Manager and Instructor

LDS is a community of dedicated professionals who write collaboratively. We recognize the contribution of unnamed team members for their wisdom and input.

  1. Torppa, M., Georgiou, G., Lerkkanen, M.-K., & Niemi, P. (2016). Examining the Simple View of Reading in a Transparent Orthography: A Longitudinal Study From Kindergarten to Grade 3. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 62(2), 179. []
  2. Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. []