Picking apart language is much like picking apart the building blocks of life. Scientists have molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. In the same way, linguists have sentences, words and syllables. Small elements make up the complex reading, writing, and spoken languages that we humans use every day.
Beyond this simple structure, there is more interconnectedness. For instance, some words have rhyming relationships. Other words begin with the same letter or groups of letters. Still other words are comprised of the same root – relation, relationship, interrelated, unrelated. When a young child begins to notice and piece together these language rules, she is developing phonological awareness – the ability to hear and work with the sounds of spoken language.
Where phonological awareness is the understanding that there are words in language that make up sentences and thoughts, phonemic awareness is the deeper knowledge that spoken words are comprised of separate, smaller sounds. These bite-sized sounds in all languages are called phonemes.
For example, a word like ‘hand’ has four phonemes: /h/, /a/, /n/, /d/. Together, they form ‘hand.’ Together with other phonemes, the links connect to form sentences and fully fledged thoughts.
Young readers-to-be with phonemic awareness can pick apart spoken words sound by sound, and then piece sounds together to form words. The deconstruction of words into phonemes is called ‘segmentation,’ while the reconstruction of sounds into words is called ‘blending.’
Some research shows that the ease with which a child learns to read depends on how phonologically and phonemically aware the child is. However, phonological awareness and phonemic awareness can and should be taught at the earliest age possible, and that starts with parents who work with their children to segment and blend words together in daily, informal lessons.
It’s never too late to start, so /g/,/o/,/o/,/d/ /l/, /u/, /c/, /k/!