Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Phonological awareness and phonics - Part 1

The terms "phonemic awareness", “phonological awareness” and "phonics" are often used in the field of education. Some writers use them interchangeably, yet they mean different things and have different roles as children begin to read.  There seems to be quite a bit of confusion over the terms “phonological awareness”, “phonemic awareness” and “phonics”

The English language has 44 phonemes. Words are produced by stringing these sounds together. The ability to manipulate and distinguish these phonemes as they are used in words is called phonemic awareness. It is a natural skill developed in children through talking and listening to other speakers of their language.

If your child has phonemic awareness, he or she understands that words are made up of sounds (phonemes) and that those sounds can be grouped together, moved, and changed.

 Since phonemic awareness activities deal with sounds only,
                        they require no reading or writing.

In other words:
Phonological Awareness- Phonological awareness is a general appreciation of how spoken language can be divided into its components.  For example, we speak in sentences.  Sentences can be broken down into words and words into syllables. 

Phonemic Awareness- The word “phoneme” means sound.  When a word is broken down into its smallest unit, a sound (or phoneme), the term “phonemic awareness” is used.  Phonemic awareness is a sub skill of the broad category of phonological awareness. 

There are kids whose phonemic awareness skills are not fully developed. As a result, they may mishear and mispronounce words.

Not one of my dyslexic students ever had a problem hearing words and neither did they mispronounce words because they heard it wrongly.

My dyslexic students could easily break down Malay words into phonemes. First they break down the words into syllables (Suku kata in Malay) and then they break it down into phonemes. For example the word ‘rambutan’ (a local fruit) has 3 syllables – ram- bu- tan. They can easily break it down to the individual phonemes. If they can do this, I find it difficult to accept that they have a ‘phonological awareness deficit’ just because they cannot read in English.They could also break down English words into phonemes. AND yet they could not read fluently in English.

I had mentioned many times on the internet that my students can read fluently in Malay and Han Yu Pin Yin (Romanised Mandarin). There are articles on the internet mentioning that researchers have proven again and again that dyslexic kids can read fluently in many languages but not in English.

One researcher said ‘dyslexics have a phonological awareness deficit’ some 30 odd years ago and since then many professors have quoted him without thinking.

Many researchers, on the other hand have said that dyslexic kids can read in other languages but not in English. If these dyslexic kids have a phonological awareness deficit does it mean dyslexics cannot hear sounds in English but they can hear sounds in other languages?

As such, if my dyslexic students cannot read in English does it mean that they have a phonological awareness deficit?  OR is it a case of phonics problem? We shall explore ‘phonics awareness’ in my next post.

This Blog post is for parents with children in primary 1 to 6 who cannot read in English. I have successfully taught many kids who were sent to me by anxious parents who could not understand why their kids could not read in English despite being very clever in many other fields.

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