Phonological awareness is an awareness and understanding of the sound structure of language.
A child or adult who is ‘phonologically aware’ has developed the ability to consciously tune in to the sounds of spoken language, to understand them and to talk about them.
For example, a three-year-old whose phonological awareness is developing might say something like: “Hey,dog and log: they sound the same!”
To which you might reply “Hey, they do don’t they? They both have an ‘og’ sound in them. Dog-log, log-dog!”
The term phonological awareness can sound confusing, and it can be. But it is essential to your child’s language learning. The great thing is, that:
Phonological awareness develops naturally if you:
- read to your child;
- talk to your child;
- play with your child;
- give your child lots of interesting and varied experiences.
Why It’s Important
Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of a child’s later reading ability.
The research clearly shows that children who have problems learning to read at school often have poorly-developed skills in this area.
Children’s whose phonological skills are well-developed during the pre-school years often learn to read quickly and easily.
Sometimes they even learn to read before they start school. In fact, they often learn to read quite naturally, with little in the way of formal teaching.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Yet, I’ve seen this happen with quite a few children over the years, including my own children.
The differences between the children who are exposed to being read, spoken, played with and who experience a variety of activities, and those who aren’t are very clear when they start to read and write.
Phonological Awareness and Reading
Phonological awareness is one of the building blocks of learning to read.
The other two building blocks are a rich vocabulary and wide background knowledge.
The very best way of helping your child develop these skills is by reading to them often and in the right way, starting as early as possible. (I’m sorry if it sounds as though I am repeating myself here, but this REALLY is important)
There are two awesome and very easy stimulators of phonological awareness, and they are Poetry and rhyme.
Luckily, human beings seem to be naturally drawn to language which features rhyme, repetition and an interesting rhythm. We re exposed to this naturally as very young children. Our early books are written in a way to promote this as well.(Next time you look at a book for young children, look to see if there is any rhyme). Listen to your old nursery rhymes, they are so much fun, and so memorable. Babies and young children love it!
Here are the main things to be aware of.
- is not the same as phonemic awareness or phonics. The terms are often used interchangeably but they mean different things.
- relates only to speech sounds, not to alphabet letters or spelling or even to whole words. This means a young child can be phonologically aware even though he may not yet be able to read or even recognise the letters of the alphabet.
- is a listening skill, not a reading skill. It involves the ability to distinguish rhymes, syllables in words and individual sounds in syllables.
- as part of overall language and speech development.
- generally in the third year of a child’s life however it develops because of activities that the child has been exposed to from birth.
- naturally if you read to your children, talk to them, share nursery rhymes with them and play games with them.
- and can be enhanced through the kind of easy, fun, free activities we do with our kids, such as playing word games and clapping games and singing nursery rhymes while doing the actions.
Center, Y. (2005). Beginning Reading. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Emmitt, M; Zbaracki, M; Komesaroff, L. & Pollock, J. (2010). Language & Learning. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Mayer, R.E. (2001). What Good is Educational Psychology? The Case of Cognition and Instruction, Educational Psychologist, Vol. 36(2), 83–88.