Phonemic Awareness Contributes to Vocabulary and Fluency (page 2)
Phonemic awareness is part of a chain of reading skills and abilities that contribute to fluent reading. Phonemic awareness makes it possible for the child to use phonics to read and learn new words. Phonics is a key word learning strategy for children in kindergarten and first and second grade. Learning new words, in turn, results in a large and rich reading vocabulary. A large reading vocabulary is important because fluent reading hinges, in part, on instantly recognizing words (Eldredge, 2005). Fluent reading frees the mind to connect with meaning, to critically analyze text, and to take pleasure in reading.
Phonemic awareness develops early, in kindergarten and first and second grade. Although phonemic awareness is not necessary for carrying on everyday conversations, it is necessary for learning to read English. As a matter of fact, phonemic awareness is so crucial for success in learning to read that beginning readers with good phonemic awareness become good readers in first and second grade; children with poor phonemic awareness struggle with reading (Strattman & Hodson, 2005).
English, like all other languages written in an alphabet, uses only a small set of visual symbols, just 26 letters. Phonics is the systematic way in which the 26 letters represent sounds in spoken words and a way to teach the relationships among letters and sounds. In order to grasp the principle of alphabet writing, beginning readers must understand that words consist of sounds and that letters represent those sounds.
Once the beginning reader is aware of the sounds in words, the reader realizes that the letters in written words stand for sounds in spoken words. With this understanding, the reader grasps the idea that phonics is a tool for changing unfamiliar written words into familiar spoken words. Children use both phonemic awareness and phonics to learn new words. Phonemic awareness is a skill set that pertains to spoken language. Phonics is a skill set that pertains to the associations among letters (written language) and sounds (spoken language). These two skill sets are codependent. Children need some phonemic awareness in order to use phonics. Using phonics improves phonemic awareness.
Let us suppose that Connie, a beginning first grader, knows that /man/ has three sounds (/m/, /a/, and /n/) (phonemic awareness) and that m represents /m/, a represents /a/, and n represents /n/ (phonics). When she sees man for the first time, she knows that the letters in man represent the sounds in a word (phonemic awareness). She uses phonics to associate /m/ with m, /a/ with a, and /n/ with n. She uses the phonemic awareness skill of blending to combine /m/ + /a/ + /n/ into /man/. Connie uses phonemic awareness to make sense of phonics and phonics to identify and learn new words.
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