Phonological awareness development incorporates the understanding of, and the learning of how to, communicate through speech, body language and written forms. It relates to our sensitivity and understanding of the sound structures of our oral language. It enables us to progress from our awareness of large sound units (words in sentences) to smaller sound units (phonemes in words).
Speaking and listening skills play a vital role in helping children to develop their awareness of the sounds around them. The more they hear, the more associations they can make to those sounds (what they see, feel and experience), the greater their ability to distinguish between them.
Our tips and ideas help you to support your child’s speaking and listening skills.
Don’t underestimate the importance of everyday chatter or conversation (‘Small Talk), children develop and learn a great deal through ‘Small Talk’ with adults and other children.
What do we mean by ‘Small Talk’? With babies it is the kind of talk that explains what we are doing, what they are doing, where we are going and what we can see. As they get older our verbal exchanges increase as we support their receptive and expressive vocabulary development. Through these exchanges we also support their general language development and understanding of how words are pronounced, basic sentence structure and using the correct tense.
When we talk with a child we demonstrate and model the use of language in real time so that it has meaning. For instance, a child may point and say “cat” and we would respond with “Yes, the cat is sleeping.” Or we may correct the child and say “That is a dog.” If we could we would point to a cat and explain the difference. We also correct mispronunciation of words and correct tense issues in the same way; repeating the word or sentence using the correct pronunciation or tense back to the child.
The Communication Trust has a link to a free downloadable booklet called Small Talk which is a very useful guide for understanding how your child learns to talk from birth to age 5:
Phonics is actually stage 8 of the 10 distinct and progressive stages of in phonological awareness development.
Pre-phonics skills are those a child learns as they develop through the phonological awareness stages 1 to 7. Throughout this time they are continually developing their understanding and knowledge of our spoken language as well as other communication forms such as gestures, facial expression, body language and social conventions.
Speaking and listening skills play a vital role in helping children develop their phonics knowledge as they need to be exposed to a wide and varied vocabulary that allows them to hear and use the range of sounds that form our language.
Being exposed to a greater range of sound experiences helps children to develop their awareness of the sounds around them. The more they hear, the more associations they can make to those sounds (what they see, feel, experience), the greater their ability to distinguish between them. This skill becomes important later on as they begin to isolate individual words in sentences, being able to distinguish between words that sound similar such as dog and hog.
Through listening and speaking games and activities children are exposed to new vocabulary as well as learning to play with the sounds in their language. This helps them to remember how the sounds feel when they make them as well as how they sound in isolation and when combined with other sounds.
Scientists believe a child’s sound awareness begins before they are born; at about 24 weeks, which highlights the importance of sound awareness, including environmental and speech sounds, as part of our instinctive natural development.
The Phonological Awareness Stages on our website are set in a developmental order from one to ten. Against each stage we have provided an age range guide based on research, which shows when most children develop the various phonological awareness skills. Clicking on a stage will take you to another page which gives more in-depth information and links to tips to help you support children through the stage.
Back in September we explained that Phonics is a very useful decoding tool used for developing reading skills and as an encoding tool for spelling. It is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phonemes) to letter combinations (graphemes) there are.
Some letter and sound associations just don’t follow the normal phonics rule of a single sound being associated to a letter or letter combination. A few letters represent two sounds, such as the letter ‘u’ which in the word ‘cupid’ represents the two sounds /y,(j)/ and /oo,(uː)/.
A more common one letter two sound relation is that of the letter ‘x’ representing the two sounds /k,(k)/ and /s,(s)/ as in the words: six and box.
Here are some other examples of single letters and split digraphs making two sounds instead of the usual phonics rule of only making one sound:
Because the English language is so rich and diverse it is very difficult to create a phonics system that caters for all. Every region that speaks the English language has its own accent which means there are always variations in the way that a word is pronounced.
Across England we all spell words the same but we certainly do not say them all the same, even though we all use the same 44 sounds. In the English language the 44 sounds can be represented by over 280 letter combinations.
So accents have arisen from regions applying different phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters) when they pronounce words. The regions still use the same sounds and letters, they just associate them differently.
For example, in the South of England the letter ‘a’ can be pronounced as the ‘long ’R’ controlled’ vowel sound /ar,(ɑː)/ in words such as ‘grass’ and ‘bath’ whereas in the North of England it will be pronounced as the ‘short’ vowel /a,(æ)/ sound in these two words.
Click here and scroll down the page to see the animations of the different pronunciations of the word ‘bath’.
Both pronunciations are correct, which can make teaching phonics a little tricky; the key is to teach the sound to letter relationships which best suit the children being taught in relation to their regional accent. It is important to remember that children’s knowledge of the sounds that make words is based on how you speak to them naturally and not a strict standardized set of sounds.
However, for general educational and learning purposes the English language’s phonics system has been standardized, this is known as the ‘Received Pronounced’ (RP) English, and is used in comprehensive English dictionaries and translation dictionaries. The RP is based on a southern accent sound to letter relationship basis.