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Phonetic awareness vs phonemic awareness – what you need to know

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Phonetic awareness vs phonemic awareness – what you need to know about these two methods, and how they can help your child become a fluent reader.

Have you heard of phonetic and phonemic awareness? What are these two terms and what do they represent? Here is what you need to know if you are teaching reading. 

What is the difference between phonetic and phonemic awareness

To understand the difference between phonetic and phonemic, you will need to understand what these two terms mean. Phonemic awareness is understanding how each new word in a sentence is made of speech sounds. 

And these sounds are phonemes. Essentially, a phoneme is a unit of sound. Phonemics or phonology focuses on a specific oral language and specific sounds used in that language. If you are interested in the phonology of the English language, you will only study sounds that appear in this language. 

On the other hand, phonetics is just focused on sounds people use. It covers all languages and all sounds you can find in them. Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify individual sounds in a whole word. It is not rare to see people using these terms interchangeably, but there is a slight difference between them. 

 4 components of phonemic awareness

There are four main components of phonemic awareness. Since we are talking about individual sounds people make while talking, all components will be focused on segmenting words and working with different sounds.

  1. Rhyming - Rhyming is one of the earliest lessons kids are taught in schools, and being able to recognize words that rhyme (or rime), spot those that don’t rhyme, and think of their own examples show phonemic awareness. 
  2. Phoneme blending and segmenting - Being able to blend sounds means that a person is able to put sounds together to form a meaningful word. Phoneme segmentation is the opposite action, where the student will break the word into sounds or individual phonemes. 
  3. Identification and alliteration - Being able to identify the beginning sound in a word. This sound isolation and identification are quite important, especially for young children (first grade and younger). 
  4. Deletion and substitution - Deletion and substitution are focused on the modification of words and sounds in them. Can a person delete the first sound from a word and speak the rest? Can they replace one sound with another and tell the result? 

All of these elements are crucial for understanding the language and showing phonemic awareness instructions or skills. 

Understanding phonetic awareness

Phonetic awareness is the key to overcoming reading disabilities such as dyslexia. Once again, phonemic awareness tasks focus on the basic building blocks of words. Phonetic awareness focuses on rhymes, syllables, and how each of these words fit together. 

And this is one of the issues for dyslexic children and the English language. When they see a word on the page, they will struggle with decoding. They won’t be able to understand how those letters sound. 

Fortunately, practicing reading instructions can be more than helpful. People are able to overcome their learning disabilities with enough work and dedication. And this is why phonetic awareness is crucial. 

Children will learn about each of these mentioned elements such as rhymes, syllables, phonemes, onset, and many others. 

Another term you will often hear is phonological awareness skills. And it is another term people often use interchangeably. 

Tools for teaching and manipulating individual sounds and spoken word for children

Another great thing teachers can include in their classes is various tools that can help kids manipulate initial sounds and get a better understanding of the problem. Some of these tools can also be helpful for auditory learners as well as for other learning difficulties. 

It is always a good idea to use technology to your advantage, and all the methods that can improve the quality of the class and make things easier for children. 

Text to speech

Speechify is one of the best TTS tools you can find. It is versatile, works in numerous languages, and it’s easy to use. It also allows students to hear the content instead of reading it and make their own experiments. 

The app also uses high-quality digital voices that sound realistic and almost indistinguishable from real human voices. One of the main advantages of Speechify is that it will work on any text you want. 

You can use it for various file formats, online texts, and even physical documents thanks to the built-in OCR. 

Rhyming books

Rhyming books exist for a reason. They are designed to improve phonetic awareness, reading skills, and understanding of how words sound. Needless to say, children can learn about rhyming words and the rhythm of the language. 

After that, you can experiment with any of the mentioned methods. Can children think of a word that rhymes with the word cat? What happens if you replace the first sound? There are so many ways these books can be helpful, and they are available in almost every library. 

Electronic flashcards and quizzes

Electronic flashcards are simple tools that can offer the necessary information you will need to have at any point. They are excellent learning tools and can be perfect for any type of learning activity. 

Additionally, you can create fun quizzes where children will have to work with words and syllables in fun and unique ways. 


What do you teach first phonics or phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness skills should precede phonics instructions. Children should be able to learn and identify sounds before they are able to connect them to corresponding letters. 

What is the main difference between phonological awareness and phonics knowledge?

Phonological awareness teaches about sounds, speech, and syllables. Phonics is a different approach that teaches the letter-sound connection between sounds (on the phoneme level) and their alphabetic representation. 

What are the 5 things that should be taught to students before they learn phonics?

The first thing children should learn about is the concept of print, language (and listening), the alphabetic principle, both phonological and phonemic awareness activities, and the desire to read. After that, the process will be simpler with phonics skills. 

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.