Phonological awareness involves the detection and manipulation of sounds at three levels of sound structure: (1) syllables, (2) onsets and rimes, and (3) phonemes. Awareness of these sounds is demonstrated through a variety of tasks (see below). Available published tests of phonological awareness (for example PhAB2) are often used by teachers, psychologists and speech therapists to help understand difficulties in this aspect of language and literacy. Although the tasks vary, they share the basic requirement that some operation (e.g., identifying, comparing, separating, combining, generating) be performed on the sounds. It is assumed that the individual performing these tasks must have awareness of the units of sound in order to perform the operation.
Phonological awareness is one component of a larger phonological processing system used for speaking and listening.Phonological awareness is different from other phonological abilities in that it is a metalinguistic skill, requiring conscious awareness and reflection on the structure of language.Other phonological abilities: such as attending to speech, discriminating between sounds, holding sounds in memory: can be performed without conscious reflection. However, these other phonological abilities are prerequisite to the development of phonological awareness. Therefore, general listening skills are often among those included in phonological awareness instruction.
The terms phonemic awareness and phonics are often used interchangeably with phonological awareness. However, these terms have different meanings. Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness that focuses specifically on recognizing and manipulating phonemes, the smallest units of sound. Phonics requires students to know and match letters or letter patterns with sounds, learn the rules of spelling, and use this information to decode (read) and encode (write) words. Phonemic awareness relates only to speech sounds, not to alphabet letters or sound-spellings, so it is not necessary for students to have alphabet knowledge in order to develop a basic phonemic awareness of language.
Phonological awareness tasks (adapted from Virginia Department of Education (1998): and Gillon (2004)