What is phonological awareness?

At a glance

  • Phonological awareness is the foundation for learning to read.

  • It’s the ability to recognize and work with sounds in spoken language.

  • Phonemic awareness — being able to tune in to the individual sounds in a word — is part of phonological awareness.

People often think that reading begins with learning to sound out letters. But most young kids are getting ready to read long before they understand that letters stand for sounds. They start by gaining a language skill called phonological awareness. 

Phonological awareness is the foundation for reading. It lets people recognize and work with the sounds of spoken language. That includes: 

  • Picking out words that rhyme 

  • Counting the number of syllables in a word

  • Noticing sound repetition (“Susie sold six salami sandwiches”) 

  • Being aware of the individual sounds in a word — a skill called phonemic awareness

Preschools usually include language play, songs, rhymes, and stories in their daily activities. Eventually, kids start to come up with rhymes on their own. They also begin to break words apart into syllables or single sounds. 

Most kids pick up phonological awareness naturally. But trouble with it can be a sign of a reading challenge like dyslexia. Kids with dyslexia may need extra help learning to recognize and work with word sounds.

Dive deeper


Read next