Phonics versus Phonemic Awareness ~ What’s the Difference?

Phonics involves seeing letters individually and connecting each one to a specific sound. Letters are broken down into consonants and Child Alphabetvowels. Vowels are broken down into long and short sounds and words are taught by beginning and ending sounds. The order in which letters are taught is in conjunction with typical child development.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic Awareness involves the understanding that spoken words are made up of individual sounds; these are known as phonemes. A child who is phonemically aware is able to isolate sounds, manipulate sounds, blend and segment sounds orally and in written words. Essentially, it is the ability to hear the different sounds in speech. Students may not recognize the written letter that accompanies the sounds, but he or she will recognize it in speech. Therefore, phonological awareness comes before phonetic skills.

The following is a simple separation of these two important pre-reading skills:

Phonemic Awareness

  • Main focus is on sounds, or phonemes
  • Deals with spoken language
  • Primarily auditory
  • Students work with manipulating the sounds within words

Phonics

  • Main focus is on graphemes/letters and corresponding sounds
  • Deals with written language, or print
  • Both visual and auditory
  • Students work with reading and writing letters based on their sounds and spelling patterns

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness are similar; however, they serve two distinctive purposes. Proficient use of both skills is the first step in the journey of becoming literate. Despite the many studies and educational debates on teaching these reading skills and others, one thing has remained certain. The more a child is read to the better his or her reading skills will be.