Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness: What's the Difference?

Phonological awareness refers to a global awareness of the sound structures of speech and the ability to manipulate those structures. Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that encompasses both basic levels of awareness of speech sounds, such as rhyming, alliteration, the number of words in a sentence, and the syllables within words, as well as more advanced levels of awareness such as onset-rime awareness and full phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is the most advanced level of phonological awareness. It refers to a child’s awareness of the individual phonemes — the smallest units of sound — in spoken words, and the ability to manipulate those sounds.

Phonological awareness (PA) involves a continuum of skills that develop over time and that are crucial for reading and spelling success, because they are central to learning to decode and spell printed words. Phonological awareness is especially important at the earliest stages of reading development — in pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade for typical readers.

Explicit teaching of phonological awareness in these early years can eliminate future reading problems for many students. However, struggling decoders of any age can work on phonological awareness, especially if they evidence problems in blending or segmenting phonemes.

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