Phonological Awareness Vs Phonemic Awareness

You may be confused in finding the contrast between phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness. Well, you are not alone. Most people consider the two terms to be the same.

Let’s see what each of these terms implies in detail and then find out the difference between both.

Phonological Awareness

Have you ever wondered about how you learned to read? As a child, you might have copied what people around you spoke. Before you learned letters, you started to talk. This skill is called phonological awareness.

To keep it simple, understanding and recognizing oral language is phonological awareness.1 Children who have this ability can identify spoken words at all levels. Be it at the sentence level or phoneme level, and they could manipulate individual sounds.

Some children acquire these awareness skills fast while others don’t. Therefore it is necessary to identify such children and help them out.

Awareness of sounds in words is necessary for reading. Children who have phonological awareness can recognize rhyming words, onset-rime, syllables, and alliteration.

Phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness
Photo by Stephen Andrews  Unsplash  Copyright 2021

Phonological awareness is important for decoding words and spelling them right. Irrespective of age, people who have phonological awareness problems2 can work on it and improve.

Dyslexic children may find it difficult to read, decode and encode language. Understanding the difference between phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness helps us to identify such variations and put up some extra effort to teach them word sounds.

One can blend, manipulate, match, segment, and rearrange the various sounds in a word. People who don’t know sounds in spoken language cannot write well. They won’t be able to connect the sounds with the letters.

Phonological awareness includes phonemic awareness3, word awareness, syllable awareness, and onset-rhyme awareness. According to age groups, children develop their phonological awareness on several levels.

A child could recognize rhymes and syllables by the age of five. Phonemic blending and sound isolation are possible by the age of six. Segmentation and manipulation are developed from the age of seven.

Signs of Not Having Phonological Awareness

  • A child who cannot develop reading and writing skills shows a problem with phonological awareness.
  • During primary schooling, if a student doesn’t participate in games involving rhymes, alliteration, and decoding words, it is probably a sign of not having phonological awareness.
  • If a child cannot spell words, it suggests articulation issues as well.
Phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness
Photo by,  CDC  Unsplash  Copyright 2021

These signs usually imply dyslexia. By running some tests, you can identify such deficits. It requires systematic efforts to build phonological awareness among people who have different brain functioning.

Also, one should have a thorough knowledge of the contrast between phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness to identify such issues.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is a branch of phonological awareness. It is the awareness and knowledge about phonemes. One can identify morphemes only with the help of phonemes. Therefore, phonemic awareness is key to understanding language4.

A phoneme is a unit of sound that enables us to contrast one word from the other. The more understanding you have about phonemes, the better you will read and spell.

For a person to acquire phonological awareness, they need phonemic awareness as well. Because phonological awareness includes phonemic awareness. Therefore people find these terms similar.

Phonemic awareness involves understanding the smallest unit of sound. This awareness is directly linked to one’s ability to read. It is also a mandatory skill when it comes to understanding language rules and enhancing fluency.

Phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness
Photo by, CDC  Unsplash  Copyright 2021

For instance, the word ‘cat’ has three phonemes- /k/,/æ/, and /t/. If a student can isolate these sounds by hearing the word, they have phonemic awareness. You can identify whether a student has this ability or not by some simple practices.

Practice phoneme isolation, this involves segregating individual sounds and phonemes. Another skill is phoneme identity. After saying multiple words with the same phoneme, ask students to identify the repeated phoneme.

Students can practice phoneme substitution, oral blending, sound deletion, onset-rhyme manipulation, oral segmenting, and sound switching to improve phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is a foundation for recognizing spoken words and spelling them right. Children who have phonemic awareness skills will learn to read and write fast. Teachers can identify such skills from the first few years of a child’s schooling.

Sometimes wrong information is passed on to students regarding words and sounds. Often the focus is diverted to areas like print with phonics. This gives misconceptions like words are the basic units, and students try to memorize them visually.

Phonemic awareness teaches that words are made up of individual sounds, and naturally, children will learn the language just by listening. Instructions regarding letters and sounds should be given only after attaining phonemic awareness.

One can learn a language only by understanding the sounds. If a student fails to understand the various sounds, learning phonics will not help them.

Signs of Not Having Phonemic Awareness

  •  If a student cannot participate effectively in sound blending activities, it suggests a lack of phonemic awareness.5
  • A student with poor results in phoneme substitution, sound deletion, and sound switching also indicates trouble regarding phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness
Photo by NCI  Unsplash  copyright 2021

Phonological Awareness Vs Phonemic Awareness: 3 Main Differences

  1. Phonological awareness is a broad area with multiple subdivisions, while phonemic awareness is a single concept.
  2. Phonological awareness doesn’t include any written letters. It involves skills like identifying rhyme, words, and sounds.
  3. Phonemic awareness, on the other hand, encompasses the ability to understand phonemes in spoken words. It enables people to separate individual phonemes.

Phonological awareness is where everyone begins. Students develop phonemic awareness at a later stage.

Both phonological and phonemic awareness are skills related to the oral and auditory aspects. There are subtle but evident nuances that contrast them. It is key to note the difference between phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness for effective engagement with students.

For reading and literacy development, every child requires this awareness, or they will struggle in their studies.

Key Takeaways

Phonological awareness vs. phonemic awareness is relatively a confusing concept. Only by the full understanding of both these aspects of language can one develop a strong grip on their language.

Teachers and parents should look into children’s level of language understanding to improve and develop such skills at an early age.

Discover more healthy information.


1. What is learned first in phonological awareness?

Ans. In the earlier learnings of phonological awareness, a child is made aware of syllables.

2. What are the 6 stages of phonic learning?

Ans. The 6 stages of phonic learning are as follows:

  1. Developing the skill
  2. Making the child know the first letters
  3. Expansion
  4. Consolidation
  5. More development
  6. Having the fluency

3. How can I make my child aware of phonics in 5 ways?

Ans. You can add skills like – counting, categorizing, rhyming, blending, segmenting, and manipulating.

Things You Should Know About Articulation Disorders
Icy Health
  1. Blachman, Benita A. “Phonological awareness.” Handbook of reading research 3 (2000): 483-502. ↩︎
  2. Blachman, Benita A. “Early intervention for children’s reading problems: Clinical applications of the research in phonological awareness.” Topics in language disorders 12.1 (1991): 51-65. ↩︎
  3. Yopp, Hallie Kay, and Ruth Helen Yopp. “Supporting phonemic awareness development in the classroom.” The Reading Teacher 54.2 (2000): 130-143. ↩︎
  4. Karmiloff-Smith, Annette. “Development itself is the key to understanding developmental disorders.” Trends in cognitive sciences 2.10 (1998): 389-398. ↩︎
  5. Snider, Vicki E. “The relationship between phonemic awareness and later reading achievement.” The Journal of Educational Research 90.4 (1997): 203-211. ↩︎

Last Updated on by ayeshayusuf


Anjaly Rose 001
Apeksha soni

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *