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Home› Languages› Portuguese› Written Language› Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness

Learning to readPhonemic awareness has been exhaustively discussed in the last decade in relation to how children begin to read (Hempenstall, 2003). The International Reading Association defines phonemic awareness as “an understanding about the smallest units of sound that make up the speech stream . . . ” (1998, p. 3).

When a student is already literate in a first language such as Portuguese, s/he already understands and uses phonemic awareness (manipulation of sounds of an oral language), because he/she already knows how to read. Therefore, direct teaching of phonemic awareness in English as a new language may be a waste of precious time. For students who are non-readers of any language, phonemic awareness instruction or assessment in English must begin with each student's Type 1 Words .


The sound system of the Portuguese language may influence how students learn English as a new language in articulation, auditory discrimination, in oral reading and in writing. Portuguese speaking children are very diverse and they may enter school with varying degrees of English - understanding/speaking proficiency as well as different levels of Portuguese literacy development. Valid assessment of phonemic awareness in English is dependent on the level of English proficiency and the characteristics of the native language which may have an influence in English.

Components of Phonemic Awareness

Recent literature in the United States has focused on “phonemic awareness” as an important element in learning to read (National Reading Panel, 2000). To have successful phonemic awareness, an English-speaking student is able to:

  • hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes; for example: she sells seashells by the seashore
  • do oddity tasks (comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration); for example: cat/sit/hat: Which does not rhyme? Which rhymes?
  • blend and split sounds; for example, blending - say /c/ plus “at” equals “cat” or splitting - listen to “cat” say /c/ plus “at”
  • perform phonemic segmentation (such as counting out the number of phonemes in a word); for example: listen to the word “dig” and separate it into the sounds /d/ /i/ /g/
  • perform phoneme manipulation tasks (such as adding, deleting a particular phoneme and regenerating a word from the remainder). For example: “cat” minus “c” add “h” equals “hat” or “tan” minus “n” plus “p” equals “tap”
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