Phonological Awareness as an Indicator of Later Reading Ability

shutterstock_142250803The ability to read is one of most important skills that children develop. It is one that will serve them well throughout their entire lives. For parents and educators, the responsibility of either teaching a child to read or reinforcing reading instruction they’re receiving is an important and often challenging pursuit. Some children pick up reading skills more easily and quicker than others. Literacy is one of the most important aspects of a child’s education. Check out this course for more information on educational reading standards. What is exactly is it, though, that determines whether or not a child will pick up reading more easily than another child? Phonological awareness is one of the telling signs of a child’s later reading ability. It’s an important concept for parents and educators to understand so that they can provide the instruction necessary to help a child achieve literacy with the least amount of difficulty.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is described as a child’s sensitivity to or awareness of the differences in the individual sounds in a language. More specifically, it’s the ability to recognize and manipulate the individual sounds in words. Phonological awareness involves phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest unit of sound in a person’s language. The individual sounds are what make a difference in a word’s meaning. An example can be shown with the word hat. The word hat has three phonemes in it, the sounds of h, a, and t. If you change the first phoneme to the sound of a c, then you’ve changed the meaning of the word because the word is no longer hat. The word is now cat. If you change the second phoneme to the sound of an i, then you have the word hit. Again, you’ve changed the meaning of the word by altering one phoneme. One more change to the final phoneme in the word hat to the sound of a d, and you now have the word had. When strings of phonemes are put together in any language, the combination of sounds from words. Phonemes and the ability to recognize the differences that changing phonemes in a word can make are vitally important to the concept of phonological awareness.

The Difference Between Speaking and Reading

Which skill is more important for a child to learn, speaking or reading? It would be difficult to measure because both are vital ways of communicating because reading and writing often go hand in hand. Speaking tends to come more naturally than reading, however. The human brain has the ability to process information that is represented by different sounds contained in spoken words without having conscious awareness of the individual phonemes that make up the words. Children often learn to speak their language without having to be intentionally taught how to speak. They pick up the language by hearing the people around them speak and imitating what they hear. Though it’s obvious that words contain different individual sounds, the child doesn’t have to be consciously aware of this or really think about it in order to learn how to speak. With reading, however, the individual phonemes are represented in print by different letters. Not only do the individual sounds strung together make up words, but these individual sounds are visually represented by the letters of the alphabet. Phonological awareness itself doesn’t require the knowledge of the letters in the alphabet of a language, just merely the recognition of different sounds. 

Phonological Awareness as a Predictor of Reading Success

Parents and educators should recognize that phonological awareness is an early predictor of a child’s later reading ability. Children who are characterized as strong readers are typically ones who have strong phonological awareness. Conversely, children characterized as poor or struggling readers typically have poor phonological awareness. Some children development phonological awareness as a young age, as early as two years old. Typically, however, children don’t develop phonological awareness until age three. They continue to refine this awareness more rapidly through ages four and five.

Aiding in the Development of Phonological Awareness

Parents and educators can help children to develop their phonological awareness, which I’ll help them to become stronger readers later on. The important skills to help children develop are to recognize, identify, and learn to manipulate the different sounds in the English language. This requires regular and intentional exposure to the sound structure of the language. Typically, children will first learn to listen to the different sounds first before they’ll be able to do anything with the sounds. They can then be taught to recognize the sounds through some specific exercises. An important activity for early childhood is the use of songs or nursery rhymes that use rhymes and alliteration. It’s not important at first for them to recognize meanings of words. What’s important is distinguishing between the sounds. With rhymes and alliteration, children learn to recognize sounds that sound similar. Children can use different hand movements to represent when they hear rhymes, alliterations, syllables, and segmenting of words. Being intentional about working with children through activities that help with phonological awareness is key.

Reading as One of the Most Important Life Skills

Even if a child doesn’t readily have phonological awareness, parents and educators can make interventions using the strategies described above. Reading is one of the most important skills a child can learn, and it’s important for parents and educators to do all that they can to ensure that children have the best chance of developing the reading skills that will take them far in life. An understanding of phonological awareness will help parents and educators make a good assessment of where a child stands when it comes to later ability in reading. This course will give you more information on how to accurately assess a child’s reading readiness level. For more information on how to support literacy, take a look at the Fast ForWord course.