Phonemes are the smallest units making up spoken language. A phoneme is a single sound that maps to one or more of the letters. (Vaughn, 2004). English consists of 44 sounds that are represented by 26 letters or combinations of the letters. The sounds can be divided into consonant or vowel sounds. Further categorization of the phonemes includes:
Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. A few words have only one phoneme, such as a (a) or oh (o). Most words consist of a blend of phonemes, such as go /g/ /o/ with two phonemes, check (/ch/ /e/ /k/) with three phonemes, or the word stop with four phonemes s-t-o-p (/s/ /t/ /o/ /p/). Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to focus on and manipulate these phonemes in spoken words and is the most complex part of the phonological awareness continuum. More advanced forms of phonemic awareness, such as the ability to segment words into component sounds are more predictive of reading ability than simpler forms such as being able to detect rhymes (Nation & Hulme, 1997). Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify the phonemes of spoken language, how they can be segmented and blended as well as manipulated (added, deleted, and substituted).
- Stop/Continuous – Breath stops when producing the sound such as /t/, /d/ whereas with continuous breath does not stop such as /m/.
- Voiced/Unvoiced – Some sounds are made exactly the same way in the mouth, but one sound uses the voice. We can recognize the use of the voice by putting our hands on our throats or our hands over our ears. Say /p/ and /b/. /b/ is voiced.
- Nasals – Some sounds are made in our nasal passage such as /m/ and /n/. Say /m/. Keep saying /m/ and then plug your nose.
- Liquids – If you take a drink, what does the liquid do in your mouth? It moves around, swishes around, and floats. That’s what these sounds /l/ and /r/ do in your mouth.
(Moats, 2000 & 2005)