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Phonetics: How can Phonemic Awareness Facilitate Effective Reading?

Phonetics: How can Phonemic Awareness Facilitate Effective Reading? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Phonemics according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is a branch of linguistic analysis that consists of the study of phonemes. In other words, it could be explained as the study of the sound system of a given language and the analysis and classification of its phonemes. Phonemics awareness, on the other hand, is the ability to examine language independently to its meaning and to manipulate its component sound[1].

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Lystra H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Difference between phonemes and phonics

It could also mean the ability to notice, think about and work with the individual sounds in spoken words and further manipulate the sounds in words which includes combining, stretching, or otherwise changing words. It should be noted that phonemic awareness and phonics are not of the same meaning, with phonics denoting the understanding that there is a relationship between letters and sounds through written language and phonemic awareness in simple terms denoting the understanding that the sounds of spoken language work together to make words. It is an understanding of the structure of spoken language.

children reading

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Universal way of acquiring a language

Studies over the past few decades have shown that when children learn to speak a language, they naturally become well acquainted with its elementary speech sounds or phonemes, and they pronounce these sounds with every word as they hear them spoken in every utterance. Regardless of their remarkable expertise in speech, ordinarily, children spend little time to consciously think about the phonemes that they use. Often their focus is quite attached to getting the meaning and on producing understandable messages. They are accustomed to thinking of words in terms of their meanings, not in terms of their linguistic characteristics[2].

Because phonemes are not discrete units but rather are spill over into those that come before it and follow it in a word, phonemic awareness requires the ability to attend to a sound in the context of the other sounds in the word.

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Why phonemes are important?

Research has demonstrated that phonemic awareness is a very important ability, in that the skill enables children to use letter-sound correspondences to read and spell words. There is a substantial analysis in the literature that shows that success in reading and spelling acquisition is strongly related to phonemic awareness[3]. It is unlikely that children lacking phonemic awareness can benefit fully from phonics instruction since they do not / may find it difficult to understand what letters and spellings are supposed to represent[4]. It is known that for example, poor readers who enter first grade phonemically unaware are most likely to remain poor readers at the end of fourth grade since their lack of phonemic awareness contributes to their slow acquisition of word recognition skills. Although studies have indicated that phonemic awareness is not simply only a strong predictor but a necessary pre-requisite for success in learning to read, teachers should understand this importance and attach all seriousness to include some level of experience in their curriculum that will facilitate the development of phonemic awareness.

teacher and children

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Correlation between phonemic awareness and spelling ability

In a study conducted by [2, 5, 6] they determine whether a student who enters into first grade lacking phonemic awareness can induce spelling-sound correspondences from print exposure or benefit from phonics in structure. They all had a conclusion that indicates that children that fail to acquire phonemic awareness are severally handicapped in their ability to master prints. A study conducted by [7] which compared the whole language and traditional reading instruction, reported that children who began first grade high in phonemic awareness did well regardless of the kind of reading instruction they received. On the other hand, neither type of instruction was any better for the children who were low in phonemic awareness at the beginning of first grade. That is, the children in whole language classes who had already developed an awareness of phonemes in spoken words were able to induce letter-sound correspondences without ever receiving explicit phonics instruction. 42 kindergarten and 42 first-grade children (14 children each in the experimental groups or control group) received training twice a week for 10 weeks.

The results of this training study supported the growing evidence that phonemic awareness is causally related to successful reading achievement at the beginning stages of reading development. Moreover, although significant improvement in reading achievement was observed for both experimental groups in kindergarten and first-grade children, the degree of improvement in reading ability of the first-grade children depended strongly upon the type of instruction received. Respectively, the children who reflected upon and discussed the value, application, and utility of phonemic awareness for the activity of reading at an explicit level performed significantly better on a transfer measure of reading achievement than the skill and drill experimental group. The implications of a meta-level or metacognitive form of instruction are discussed[8]. Other researches conducted have shown that phonemic awareness training has a positive effect on the development of children’s word recognition and spelling and reading abilities.

teacher tutoring a girl

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Teachers’ Role

With this basis established, what is left for teachers that handle young children is to ask themselves how best they can help to develop the phonemic awareness of each child in their class. [9] in their work outlined a few ways teachers can help to improve the phonemic awareness of children including, exposing them to literature that plays with the sounds in language, providing extensive writing experiences, and also providing explicit instruction in sound segmentation and in representing the sounds heard in words.

In the above paragraphs, reasons have been outlined as to how phonemic awareness facilitates effective reading ability/skills. In summary, children who have problems or lacks acquiring phonemic awareness, the prognosis isn’t good. In the sense that, Firstly, such a child is unable to take advantage of the alphabetic principle. Though it could be that such a child might know the letters, even that the letters are somehow connected to the spoken word, but without phonemic awareness, he/she is baffled by what that relationship might be.

Secondly, we’ve been enlightened on the exposure to prints as an important tool for figuring out the relationships between letters and phonemes. With phonemic awareness as an acquired prerequisite, the greater the opportunity to pair print and in the utterance of spoken words; the greater the opportunity to learn the relationship between letters and phonemes. Children who lack these prerequisites are essentially unable to take advantage of such opportunities, and print exposure is no longer productive for learning to read.

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And finally, it have been observed that for example, if child is unable to making progress in reading by the third grade due to the aforementioned prerequisite, there is very little likelihood that he/she ever will, regardless of the intervention used, be able to read at the same level as his/her same-aged peers[10].

All this evidence shows that phonemic awareness is a potent predictor of success in reading than measures of vocabulary or IQ and also listing comprehension. And if it’s lacking, mastery overprints is unlikely to be gained by emergent readers.

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