Does Phonological Awareness have an Effect on Reading Comprehension?
Background and Definition of Phonological Awareness
The significance of reading and writing both in ancient and modern times remains undisputed, hence, the emphasis placed on the two. The greatest concern in educational settings is how to improve the reading fluency of learners, and this has seen more teachers focus more on phonological awareness. The move has raised more questions than answers on the link between phonological awareness and reading comprehension, or rather how the former influences the latter. Research indicates that the concept and skill of phonological awareness plays an integral role in unlocking the complex process through which learners understand or are made aware of the relationship existing between written and spoken words. To understand the influence of phonological awareness on reading comprehension and fluency, it would be imperative to give a concrete definition of the former. Phonological awareness gives reference to an individual’s ability to manipulate and have a perception of the sounds of spoken words.
Tasks Used to Measure Phonological Awareness
Essentially, the awareness is of the basic speech units of a particular language, usually identified as phonemes, as well as other units of speech such as syllables and rimes (Castles and Max 78). As such, having an understanding of the mentioned basic speech units enhances an individual’s reading comprehension and fluency. The component of awareness in the ‘phonological awareness’ concept dictates the need for deliberately and explicitly working on or acting upon the already mentioned basic speech units. It should be noted that there are tasks used to measure phonological awareness, and these have been critical to understanding how it influences reading comprehension. One of the tasks, which are still widely used, is that of phoneme deletion, which involves the presentation of a subject with a spoken word and the deletion of a particular sound. For instance, a learner is presented with a spoken word ‘fan’ and upon the deletion of the letter ‘f’, the remaining word ‘an’ is pronounced. Other tasks used to measure phonological awareness include phoneme counting, which involves tapping out each sound in a word, phoneme blending that involves pulling together individual sounds or syllables that exist within words, and phoneme reversal that includes the pronunciation of sounds backwards (Castles and Max 79).
Phonological Awareness Enables Acquisition of Early Reading Skills
Undoubtedly, there is a relationship between reading ability and performance on phonological awareness tasks, particularly by learners. In fact, evidence has been accumulated to underscore the fact that the more knowledge or understanding children have of constituent sounds of words, the better they are when it comes to reading fluency and comprehension. The influence of phonological awareness on reading comprehension is evident in the fact that it plays a causal role in reading acquisition, and thus, it is seen to assist or enable an individual to acquire early reading skills (Castles and Max 79). The interpretation of this perspective focuses on the phoneme level, with the argument that since letters are representations of individual phonemes in alphabetic languages such as the English language, an individual ought to enhance his or her awareness of the various phonemic segments in spoken words. At least, this should be before a person proceeds with learning about how the phonemic segments are in correspondence with graphemes and letters. In the same vein, awareness of higher levels of speech units including rimes and syllables, which are phonological components, have been seen to assist individuals in mapping sounds onto letter sequences frequently occurring such as ‘ing’ and ‘ight’. With these perspectives in mind, it is imperative to note that phonological awareness does not push children and learners to read but rather it makes individuals better at learning to read at some later stage in life.
Phonological Segments Introduce Individuals to the Process of Learning to Read
The view that phonological awareness has an influence on reading comprehension and acquisition is also supported by the fact that it is the relevant phonological segments in a language that introduce an individual to the process of learning to read. In line with this argument, research shows that individuals who perform poorly on tasks related to phonological awareness extend the poor performance to reading comprehension and fluency (Yoshikawa and Junko 472). Put simply, persons with poor performance on phonological awareness tasks are often considered illiterate, meaning that they can neither read nor write. However, an important fact is that the exposure to literacy also plays an integral role in the enhancement of an individual’s phonemic awareness. This is highlighted in myriads of studies that postulate that American kindergartners excel more on phonemic awareness as compared to their German counterparts, and this is because the former are taught letters and sounds before schooling whereas the latter are not. As such, the fact that there is a correlation between phonemic awareness and reading comprehension and acquisition remains undisputed.
Phonological Awareness Enables the Use of the Alphabetic Code
A crucial aspect of the reading process is the use of the alphabetic code, where alphabetic letters in combination or singly, are seen to represent various sounds of speech. One of the languages that use the alphabetic code or system is English, and thus, people with knowledge and understanding of the same are capable of taking apart words to form sounds, recognizing their identity, and putting them together again to form another sound. Essentially, without phonological awareness, it is most likely that an individual will exhibit the inability to use the alphabetic code, an insinuation that the reading process will also be in jeopardy (Gillon 37). In fact, people, particularly students with no understanding or knowledge of phonological awareness may not know what the term ‘sound’ means. On several occasions, such people may be in positions of naming alphabets and hearing them well once pronounced, but may have no idea of what they represent or how to read them. For instance, learners who lack phonological awareness may come up with an irrelevant pronunciation such as ‘woof’ to stand for the word ‘dog’.
Phonological Awareness Promotes Word Consciousness, Development of Language, and Mastery of Language
The exhibition of adequate reading skills is highlighted by an individual’s word consciousness, development of vocabulary, and mastery of a particular language. The perspectives of mastering a language, developing vocabulary, and word consciousness all rely on an individual’s phonological awareness. With the latter, an individual will have the ability to attend to unfamiliar words while comparing them to words that are already known. Besides, phonological awareness enhances a person’s capability of pronouncing and repeating words correctly, which are fundamental to reading fluency and comprehension (Jenkins 112). Moreover, with phonological awareness, a person can encode or remember words in an accurate manner enabling him or her to retrieve and use them at a later stage. Notably, proper encoding or memory of words is part of effective reading skills; hence, the influence or effect of phonological awareness on reading comprehension is underscored. Furthermore, phonological awareness’s interaction with word consciousness is evident in a person’s ability to differentiate words that have similar sounds. When a person is capable of differentiating words that sound similar, then his or her reading acquisition must be at an advanced level, underscoring the influence of phonological awareness on reading acquisition and comprehension.
Teaching of Phonological Awareness Improves Reading Comprehension
More instructors have embraced the teaching of phonological awareness as one of the steps in the journey towards the improvement of reading comprehension among learners. One of the strategies that have helped teach phonological awareness is Say-It-And-Move-It, which dictates that learners must have an understanding of the fact that one letter, represents a single sound. In this strategy, learners are forced to say the sound of a letter which is on a disk, and the disk is then moved to the bottom of the page (Booker 5). This strategy of teaching phonological awareness sees teachers start with letter sounds, and then they proceed to the use of sounds and letters to form words. A key purpose of the Say-It-And-Move-It strategy of teaching phonological awareness is to ensure that learners say a particular sound while noting the letter with which the sound corresponds. Without a doubt, teachers who have embraced this strategy of teaching phonological awareness have played an integral role in improving the reading comprehension and fluency of their learners, an underlying factor for the influence of phonological awareness on reading comprehension and acquisition. Other instructors have concentrated on improving learners’ phonological awareness by leveraging on the beginning-middle-end strategy, which teaches learners to think about and find where various sounds are located in a particular word. With this strategy, instructors have successfully developed phonemic segmentation, which has in extension been fundamental in the improvement of learners’ reading comprehension and acquisition.
Booker, Brandi. “Phonemic Awareness: An Important Piece of the Reading Puzzle December 6, 2013 Lynchburg College.” (2013).
Castles, Anne, and Max Coltheart. “Is there a causal link from phonological awareness to success in learning to read?.” Cognition 91.1 (2004): 77-111.
Gillon, Gail T. Phonological Awareness: From Research to Practice. New York: Guilford Press, 2004. Print. Retrieved online from https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=P3a_CQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=Gillon,+Gail+T.+Phonological+Awareness:+From+Research+to+Practice&ots=y_9BmXXkXF&sig=AON3QRkEjua8uORTBVgZi6_BWYA&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Gillon%2C%20Gail%20T.%20Phonological%20Awareness%3A%20From%20Research%20to%20Practice&f=false
Jenkins, Jennifer. “5. Research in Teaching Pronunciation and Intonation.” Annual review of applied linguistics 24 (2004): 109-125.
Yoshikawa, Lisa, and Junko Yamashita. “Phonemic Awareness and Reading Comprehension among Japanese Adult Learners of English.” Open Journal of Modern Linguistics 4.04 (2014): 471.