Phonemic awareness is the only aspect of reading that is
essential for children to develop before they can begin learning to read. Based
in oral language, phonemic awareness serves as not only the foundation for
reading it is also the strongest indicator of a child’s potential for learning
What is Phonemic Awareness?
Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made
up of phonemes or individual units of sound that influence the meaning of the
word. For example, the word “drum” is made up of four individual phonemes: /d/
/r/ /u/ /m/. If you change one of these notice how the meaning of the word
changes. When /d/ is replaced by /st/ you have “strum”, a verb meaning to run
an object (usually one’s fingers) across an object that makes sound. This is
very different than “drum”.
Phonemic awareness is not only the recognition that words
are made up of small sound units it is also the ability to break down,
manipulate and blend phonemes. A reader needs to be able to apply her
understanding of phonemes in order to begin learning to read. She must be
taught to transfer her knowledge of phonemes used in oral language to written
Role of Phonemic Awareness in Reading
Young children must come to reading with phonemic awareness.
Research has found that this element of reading is the single strongest
indicator for a child’s success at learning to read. While the reasons why
phonemic awareness is a necessary pre-requisite to reading are not clear many
researchers speculate that the understanding that phonemes are sequences of
sounds in language makes children aware of how the alphabet works. In other
words phonemic awareness helps children realize that words, regardless of their
form (oral or print), are made up of sounds.
**Phonemic awareness allows young readers to build another
important element of reading: phonics. Phonics (the relationship between
letters and sounds) builds upon phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness creates
a bridge between spoken and written language. When a child understands and can
manipulate sounds verbally, they are ready to transfer this knowledge to
Impact of Phonemic Awareness on Reading Ability
Beyond serving as an indicator of a child’s ability to learn
to read, phonemic awareness also impacts other elements of reading. Strong
phonemic awareness when used to segment and blend words helps children increase
their abilities to decode and comprehend what they are reading.
A focus on phonemic awareness in reading education seems to
have the greatest impact on very young readers. Instruction most benefits
children in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and the beginning of first grade.
At-risk readers should receive more intensive phonemic awareness instruction
than their non-disabled peers.