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What is Phonemic Awareness?

NIH research has repeatedly demonstrated that lack of phonemic awareness is the root cause of reading failure. Phonemes are the smallest unit of spoken language, not written language.

Children who lack phonemic awareness are unable to distinguish or manipulate sounds within spoken words or syllables. They would be unable to do the following tasks:

  • Phoneme Segmentation: What sounds do you hear in the word hot? What’s the last sound in the word map?

  • Phoneme Deletion: What word would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?

  • Phoneme Matching: Do pen and pipe start with the same sound?

  • Phoneme Counting: How many sounds do you hear in the word cake?

  • Phoneme Substitution: What word would you have if you changed the /h/ in hot to /p/?

  • Blending: What word would you have if you put these sounds together? /s/ /a/ /t/

  • Rhyming: Tell me as many words as you can that rhyme with the word eat.

If a child lacks phonemic awareness, they will have difficulty learning the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent in words, as well as applying those letter/sound correspondences to help them “sound out” unknown words.

So children who perform poorly on phonemic awareness tasks via oral language in kindergarten are very likely to experience difficulties acquiring the early word reading skills that provide the foundation for growth of reading ability throughout elementary school.

Phonemic awareness skills can and must be directly and explicitly taught to children who lack this awareness.