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Fine Tuning Phonics 2

Phonemic awareness (PA) is the ability to perceive and manipulate the sounds of a language. Yeong & Rickard-Liow (2012) define it as the ability to segment words into constituting sounds and to blend these sounds to form new words. This type of awareness requires the recognition of phonemes, which are the smallest unit of language that can bring about a difference in meaning. Well-developed PA skills are critical for mastering phonics, the sound-letter coupling required for reading.


The inventory of sounds a learner has in her head is critical for successful phonics. Obviously, L2 learners don’t have the full set of English sounds in place. And, importantly, they cannot hear the sounds. Or, more precisely, they hear L2 sounds according to their L1 sound categories. Children, from around one-year of age, cannot distinguish the difficult sounds of a second language, so they will not be able to correctly connect them to letters.


This idea – that children lose the ability to hear certain sounds at such a young age – is something a lot of people do not accept. I’ve taken a few seconds from a two videos that make this point:



When I say we have to “fine-tune” phonics, I mean we need to improve learner’s perception of English phonemes. As the video shows, from a very early age, our listening becomes organized around the sounds we hear in our environment, our native language (languages). L2 learners cannot distinguish the difficult sounds. They need special help in order to hear the sounds that are inaudible.


This is what does.



Yeong, S.H.M., & Rickard-Liow, S.J. (2012). Development of phonological awareness in English-Mandarin bilinguals: A comparison of English-L1 and Mandarin-L1 kindergarten children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 

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