Reading 101 is a collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness: Introduction

Kindergarten teacher teaching phonemic awareness to student

Learn the definitions of phonological awareness and phonemic awareness — and how these pre-reading listening skills relate to phonics.

Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness: what’s the difference?

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words. Examples include being able to identify words that rhyme, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, identifying the syllables in a word, and blending and segmenting onset-rimes. The most sophisticated — and last to develop — is called phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This includes blending sounds into words, segmenting words into sounds, and deleting and playing with the sounds in spoken words.

Phonological awareness (PA) involves a continuum of skills that develop over time and that are crucial for reading and spelling success, because they are central to learning to decode and spell printed words. Phonological awareness is especially important at the earliest stages of reading development — in pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade for typical readers.

Explicit teaching of phonological awareness in these early years can eliminate future reading problems for many students. However, struggling decoders of any age can work on phonological awareness, especially if they evidence problems in blending or segmenting phonemes.

How about phonological awareness and phonics?

Phonological awareness refers to a global awareness of sounds in spoken words, as well as the ability to manipulate those sounds.

Phonics refers to knowledge of letter sounds and the ability to apply that knowledge in decoding unfamiliar printed words.

So, phonological awareness refers to oral language and phonics refers to print. Both of these skills are very important and tend to interact in reading development, but they are distinct skills; children can have weaknesses in one of them but not the other.

For example, a child who knows letter sounds but cannot blend the sounds to form the whole word has a phonological awareness (specifically, a phonemic awareness) problem. Conversely, a child who can orally blend sounds with ease but mixes up vowel letter sounds, reading pit for pet and set for sit, has a phonics problem.

Video: Letters vs Phonemes

Dr. Louisa Moats explains to a kindergarten teacher why it is critical to differentiate between the letters and sounds within a word when teaching children to read and write.

Reading 101 is a collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.

"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox