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Phonemic Awareness

Manipulation of the Sounds of the Oral Language  Phonemic awareness has been exhaustively discussed in the last decade in relation to how children begin to read (EducationNews.org, 2005).  It is defined by the International Reading Association as “an understanding about the smallest units of sound that make up the speech stream…” (2005, p. 3)

Khmer speakers, who have absorbed the unique phonological characteristics of the Khmer language, may be influenced by Khmer phonological characteristics when learning to speak English as a second language.  A comparison of the sounds of Khmer and English will help educators distinguish between linguistic influences and learning disabilities. Teachers need to be familiar with these differences so that they do not interpret them as speech impediments or indicators of any learning disabilities. Clearly all children, who come to school speaking a language, can use sounds (phonemes to comprehend and produce meaningful language) (Freeman & Freeman, 1996). In terms of ability, Adams (1990) defines phonemic awareness as having five levels:

  • to hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes
  • to do oddity tasks (comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration)
  • to blend and split syllables
  • to perform phonemic segmentation (such as counting out the number of phonemes in a word)
  • to perform phoneme manipulation tasks (such as adding, deleting a particular phoneme and regenerating a word from the remainder).

However, Khmer students may arrive at school with little proficiency in the language of instruction which is English and need the time and the opportunity to learn it as a foundation to their literacy development through English. On the other hand, if Khmer speaking students are already proficient readers in Khmer they do not need to be assessed or have instruction in phonemic awareness per se, because they already know how to read and reading only happens once.

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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