Phonemic Awareness: Important for Early Reading

Randall Klein, Early Reading Specialist

In this post, Mr. Klein shares the key to teaching your children to read at a younger age: Beginning Sound Isolation.

All Reading Begins with Sounds

Phonemic awareness is the ability to perceive individual sounds in spoken language. It is this awareness that makes learning to read with phonics fun and easy. It begins with sound isolation.

Phonemic awareness example of the word house

For example, this picture of a house represents a spoken word. Don’t spell this word, just think of it only as a spoken word, not a printed word. When we think about the spoken word for this picture, and analyze it, we find that it is made up of 3 distinct and separate sounds: “h” “ow” and “s”.

The ability to hear and perceive the individual sounds in spoken language is what allows a child to understand how written language and spoken language map onto each other. Research stresses the importance of teaching a child this ability early in life.

Perhaps the simplest definition of reading is knowing how to map spoken language onto printed words.

So far, we learned that phonemic awareness requires the ability to hear the sounds that make up words. A child with a hearing problem who is unable to actually hear speech sounds clearly and accurately is going to have difficulty with learning to read. But it is not only a child’s hearing that allows him to perceive the sounds in a spoken word. It’s more than hearing. It’s an awareness that language can be broken down into smaller pieces.

Learning About Phonemic Awareness

School girl doing phonemic lessons

I learned about phonemic awareness from 5-1/2 year old Theresa who wasn’t progressing along the path of reading despite her obvious intelligence and willingness. As I was working with her, trying to figure out where the problem was, I pulled out a rhyming game. There was no logical reason to begin with a simple rhyming game but that’s what I did. And much to my surprise, Theresa couldn’t match up the rhyming pictures. And somehow the discovery that Theresa couldn’t rhyme hit me like a ton of bricks.

Instantly my intuition led me to see that there was a connection between Theresa’s inability to rhyme and her struggles with learning letters and decoding simple words. This connection, as I later came to understand more fully, was in fact the role that phonemic awareness plays in reading.

This experience had a profound impact on me. I didn’t have the right words for it – I didn’t read the research or know about phonemic awareness until 10 years later. The only way I could express it to my colleagues at the time was to say, “We’ve got to teach the children to hear sounds.”

And so we began to create lessons and games designed to teach children to hear the beginning sound of a word and then all the sounds of a word. And when we learned to do that, a wonderful thing happened: very young children began to read. We were starting to figure this reading thing out.

Phonemic Awareness: Beginning Sound Isolation

Fact: if you want children to understand, learn and remember the sounds that alphabet letters make, they have to develop an understanding of the alphabetic principle, that is, how sounds in spoken language map with letters in print.

Fact: I didn’t learn this at an institute of higher learning or read it in a book. I learned it from the preschoolers in my class while we played fun phonics games.

But in order to understand the alphabetic principle, a child must first be able to perceive the individual sounds in spoken language. Not all of the sounds in a word “h” “ow” and “s”, just the first sound “h”.

Once I figured out that children need to be able to isolate the beginning sound of a spoken word in order to understand, learn and remember letter-sounds, I was on fire to find fun and engaging ways to get them to do it.

I’d like to share with you some learning methods to teach beginning sound isolation. Please click on the link below. Thank you for reading!

Click here for a free educational beginning sound game based from this article.

Visit Randall’s site.

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