Phonological Awareness

What is phonological awareness?

Phonological awareness is the ability to split larger units of speech into smaller units, and to manipulate those units consciously.


For example:

'zebra' - / ˈze.bɹə /
(2 syllables or claps) - /z/-/e.bɹə/ (starts with 'z') - /z-e-b-ɹ-ə/ (has 5 sounds or phones)

Sub-skills involved

  • Syllable segmentation, as well as syllable deletion
  • Rhyme Awareness
  • Alliteration awareness (First sound or onset). This may be assessed using an 'odd one out' word list where all the items have the same initial sound except for one.
  • Identification of phones (WHICH SOUND is at the start/end of this word?, e.g., /t-/ or /k-/). This is also known as Phoneme Isolation, and involves the skills of onset-rime and identification of the initial phoneme.
  • Phoneme segmentation - splitting words into its constituent SOUNDS (not letters)
  • Letter knowledge - matching sounds to graphemes. Note that English is not a transparent language and words such as 'elephant' do not have one-to-one correspondence to the phones in the word as a digraph 'ph' is used for the phone /f/.

Listening skills

  • Identification - matching a heard sound in isolation or in the context of a word to a symbol for that sound. This might be a sound scheme picture such as Bigmouth, Jolly Phonics or Nuffield sound pictures. Typically, speech and language therapists choose to contrast the initial phoneme where a child has a phonological process causing homophony, such as fronting velar plosives. The child is asked to sort words starting with /t-/ and /k-/, often minimal pairs, and sort or post these words to a postbox with a sound picture representing /t/ and /k/ such as a dripping tap [t] and a camera clicking [k].
  • Discrimination (SAME or DIFFERENT?. e.g. [t]-[t], same or different?, 'table'-'cable', same or different?) discrimination tasks must include the 'same or different' question, and these tasks are often step-down tasks for children who cannot yet complete an identification task.

Phonological awareness is the basis for literacy and skills such as phone-grapheme relationships are important for the development of spelling and reading.

Is phonological awareness a key aspect of speech and language therapy?

There is an assumption that children need to identify sounds before they can use them. This may not be the case, and therapy for Speech Sound Disorders has resulted in some surprising findings in relation to Phonological Awareness.

The Evidence Base

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