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The Phonemes Of English: A Phonemic Study Of Th...


  • Children lacking phonemic awareness skills cannot: group words with similar and dissimilar sounds (mat, mug, sun)

  • blend and split syllables (f oot)

  • blend sounds into words (m_a_n)

  • segment a word as a sequence of sounds (e.g., fish is made up of three phonemes, /f/ , /i/, /sh/)

  • detect and manipulate sounds within words (change r in run to s).

(Kame'enui, et. al., 1997; see References)




The Phonemes of English: A Phonemic Study of th...



The purpose of this preliminary investigation was to assess the relationship between knowledge of speech sounds (phonemes) and lingual awareness in normal adult speakers of English. The study also examined subjects' descriptions of lingual contact. 36 subjects (M age=19.6, SD=.71) who were enrolled in an undergraduate phonetics class participated. All passed a speech and hearing screening and reported having received no prior speech therapy or classes in articulation, phonetics, or speech science. During the first class meeting, the subjects were given two tests. The measure of phonemic awareness consisted of (a) judging which two (out of three) printed words began (or ended) with the same phoneme, (b) counting, substituting, reversing phonemes in words, and (c) indicating primary stress in two-syllable words. The lingual awareness test consisted of subjects imitating a syllable, then responding to a multiple-choice question regarding (a) tongue position (front to back), (b) tongue height (high to low), (c) contact with the teeth, and (d) contact with other oral cavity structures. Subjects were requested to imitate the syllable prior to answering each question, e.g., "Say tuh. Did you feel your tongue in the front, middle, or back of your mouth?" Seven English phonemes (t, k, s, sh, r, l, and voiceless th) were presented in a consonant-vowel syllable with the central vowel "uh." Subjects were aided by a line drawing of the oral cavity. A significant correlation of .53 was found between the two tests, suggesting that individuals who possess greater awareness of speech sounds tend to exhibit heightened lingual awareness. Sound-symbol knowledge was the best predictor of lingual awareness. Subjects had the most difficulty describing lingual contact for phonemes that are often troublesome for children to articulate (sh, r, l, and s).


A popular approach in Scotland, this method is associated with the teaching of reading in which the phonemes associated with particular graphemes are not pronounced in isolation. Children identify (analyse) the common phoneme in a set of words in which each word contains the phoneme under study. For example, teacher and pupils discuss how the following words are alike: pat, park, push and pen.


Phonological awareness of sounds in the second language cannot be presumed in second language learners. Second language learners must know the linguistically significant phonemes and allophones in the second language to read, write, and speak fluently, and to avoid miscommunication. This raises the question of whether, how much, and in what form phonetic instruction should be introduced and applied in the second language classroom, and whether or not such intervention is effective. This study evaluates the impact of instruction in phonetic and phonemic distinctions in sounds on the English pronunciation of English language learners, specifically, Spanish speakers learning English as a second language (ESL).


Given that the claims of the above studies are not unanimous regarding the age factor in second language acquisition or regarding the appropriate focus in teaching pronunciation, this study seeks to determine whether or not adult native Spanish speakers improve their pronunciation subsequent to instruction in specific phonetic and phonemic distinctions between English and Spanish.


1. What effect, if any, does instruction in phonetic and phonemic distinctions in sounds have on the overall pronunciation of target English phonemes and allophones by native Spanish speakers learning ESL?


2. What effect, if any, does instruction in phonetic and phonemic distinctions in sounds have on the pronunciation of individual target English phonemes and allophones by native Spanish speakers learning ESL?


Early phonological skills include awareness of syllables and onset-rime segments. Later, children develop the ability to blend and segment individual phonemes. Advanced phonemic awareness includes the ability to manipulate phonemes by substituting, reversing, and deleting phonemes and continues to develop into third grade and beyond.


Phonemic awareness and phonics instruction help students use the alphabetic principle to learn relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language. As noted in the word-reading development chart above, developing early phonological awareness, including phonemic awareness of initial sounds, should be a focus of PreK and kindergarten instruction to develop basic letter-sound correspondence knowledge. As students move through kindergarten and grade one, a focus on blending and segmenting of phonemes in written words develops phonic decoding skills which must be in place for orthographic mapping. Some kindergarten and grade 1 students may be able to start completing simple phoneme manipulation tasks, such as deleting or substituting initial sounds in words.


Once teachers understand how the OM process works, it becomes clearer why it is so important to provide explicit, systematic instruction for letter-sound knowledge, blending and segmenting phonemes in words to decode, and advanced phonemic awareness (phoneme manipulation). These are the underlying skills that build proficiency in the ability to link knowledge of word meaning, sounds in words, and the spellings of those sounds.


Phonological awareness is the understanding that our spoken language is made up of words and that our words are made up of individual units of sounds called phonemes. Phonological awareness encompasses many skills such as word recognition, rhyming, syllables, and phonemic awareness. All of these are acquired by listening and manipulating words or sounds.


Although these skills can be worked on simultaneously, phonemic awareness is typically the last of the phonological awareness skills that students master. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made up of individual sound units called phonemes, and that those sounds have distinct articulatory features. We use articulators to shape the airstream when forming sounds. Articulators include the tongue, teeth, lips, alveolar ridge (ridge behind your teeth), hard palate, and soft palate. Here is a basic example of phonemes in a word:


Understanding that these phonemes exist and that the articulators (mouth, tongue, teeth, etc.) are all doing something different to form these sounds is vital in allowing a student to connect these different sounds to the letters that represent them. Since the emphasis is on oral language, students do not need to know the alphabet before developing their phonemic awareness.


Phonological awareness has been strongly implicated as an important factor in alphabetic4 reading acquisition (see Adams, 1990 for an overview). Similarly, Carroll (1990) has come to believe that phonetic coding difficulties may be closely related to dyslexia. In fact, in his comprehensive survey of factor-analytic language studies, Carroll (1993) includes a study of phonological awareness in a discussion of the construct of phonetic coding. People with dyslexia also have great difficulty learning grapho-phonemic correspondences (step 4). However, most researchers believe that this is purely a result of poor phonological awareness. If you can't understand that words can be decomposed into smaller phonological units, you can't very well match those units to graphemes.


The study involved 60 girls (all NSE) enrolled in second-year high school Spanish, French, and German courses. Nine predictor variables were examined. In addition to foreign language word decoding, the list included first-year (i.e., previous year) English grade, first-year foreign language grade, high school placement test score, score on the MLAT long form, and scores from various tests of L1 reading, spelling, and general language ability. The tests were administered during the first quarter of the first year of L2 study (high school second year). L2 proficiency was measured by three tests developed using ACTFL guidelines. These three tests, a reading test, a writing test, and a listening/speaking test, were administered at the end of the students' second year of L2 study. The strongest relationship between predictor variable and L2 proficiency was the L2 decoding test, which accounted for 46% of the variation (r = .68). No other variables maintained significance after analysis. Sparks et al. concluded that learning the grapho-phonemic system of the L2 may help students learn to speak and comprehend new words.


Vellutino and Scanlon (1986) conducted a study that tested the trainability of both phonemic awareness and phonological STM. The study compared groups of poor and normal readers (English L1) in second and sixth grade on verbal response learning and code acquisition tasks with or without training in phonemic awareness. The experiment involved three treatment and two control groups. However, only the results of the training group (Vellutino & Scanlon's PSTRA group) are of interest here. The training involved exercises in phonemic segmentation, practice in remembering orally presented phonemically similar nonsense syllables (sij, duj, dif, sug), and practice in identifying grapheme-phoneme relationships in printed pseudowords. Training took place over five or six days with one half-hour session each day. Vellutino and Scanlon subsequently tested the children on their ability to recall orally presented nonsense syllables (different from those used in training). They also tested the children's ability to learn the names (nonsense syllables) of unfamiliar cartoon characters. Lastly, they tested the children's ability to learn grapheme-phoneme correspondences. 041b061a72


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