Phonemic Awareness

1.  Phonemic Awareness

In order to learn to read and write English, a learner must be able to perceive the small units of sound called phonemes that make up spoken words.

To those of us who can already read and write English, it is apparent that a word like boat has three component sounds, or phonemes: /b/ /o/ /t/. However, there is evidence that the ability to perceive a spoken word as a sequence of phonemes varies from individual to individual.

In addition to individual differences, phonemic segmentation of English words is particularly difficult for those with little prior experience listening to English speech sounds. Phonemic segmentation of English words is also particularly difficult for those with little experience in English rhyme, alliteration, or other word play.

ELLs may find it difficult to differentiate certain phonemes of English. For example, /v/ and /b/ may sound alike to some Spanish speakers, and /l/ and /r/ may be indistinguishable to some Japanese speakers. Similarly, while English speakers would identify pot and spot as both containing the phoneme /p/, Hindi speakers might perceive the /p/ in pot and the /p/ in spot as two distinct phonemes differentiated by the presence or absence of an initial puff of air (aspiration).