What is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness?

Phonic & Phonemeic 1

With the new school year well under way many new parents are being introduced to the world of phonics and the all the technical language associated with it. So we thought we would take this opportunity to demystify some of that technical language.

Phonics is the association of sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes). For reading (decoding) the phonics coding system is used to convert the written word into sounds. For spelling (encoding) the same phonic coding system is used to covert sounds heard into letters to form written words.

Phonemic awareness is our ability to split words into their smallest sound units (individual phonemes) and to manipulate these sounds through segmentation, blending, substitution, re-ordering and deletion. This is based on what we hear and say, not the written word.

These are developed further later on when phonics is introduced, sound to letter association.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.
  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog.
  • Substitution – being able to swap one sound/letter association for another in a word, for example swapping the /k,(k)/ sound in the word ‘cat’ with a /h,(h)/ sound to say the word ‘hat’.
  • Reordering – being able to swap the sounds/letter association around to create a new word, for example changing the order of the letters in the word ‘cat’ to form the new word ‘act’.
  • Deletion (omission) – being able to remove a sound/letter association from a word to create a new word, for example removing the /t,(t)/ sound from the word ‘cart’ to say the new word ‘car’.

Good phonemic awareness is the vital skill required before phonics can be introduced successfully as a tool for learning to read and spell.

Watch our ‘Single Word Reading’ animation to see these manipulation skills in action: bit.ly/20JAHSa

Word Play – Syllable Awareness & Counting

syllables 1

At about the age of 4 years old children start to develop an understanding that words can be split into sound parts (syllables) and that these parts give the word its rhythm.  A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.

They should be able to orally blend syllables together to form words and segment words into syllables.

A fun activity to help develop syllable understanding:

How Many Syllables?     

Children love to clap out the number of syllables in a word. It is important to say the word at a normal speed rather than really slowly as this can distort the word and make it difficult to hear the syllables. To start with a child just needs to be able to recognize them by clapping, stamping or jumping for each syllable of a word; they don’t need to be able to count them. It is thought that only about 50% of children can count out the syllables by the age of 4, so you can do the counting for them.

Spoken syllables are organised around the vowel sounds, making counting them easy; as the jaw drops when the vowel sound is spoken in the syllable. Try placing your hand under your jaw with your mouth closed before you say a word. Start with ‘cat’ you will notice the jaw drops once, this is because it is a one syllable (monosyllabic) word.

Most children will find it easier to identify syllables in compound words to start with. A compound word is formed by two words (root words) put together such as: sunset, hotdog, snowman and postman. They find it easier because the jaw tends to drop quite distinctly as we say the vowel sound in each of the root words and because we tend to say these words slowly.

The Importance of Speaking & Listening

Speaking & Listening Icon 2

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: https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/how-to-talk-to-your-child.html

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: https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/resources/resources/resources-for-parents/small-talk.aspx