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Phonological Awareness and EAL

By Eryn Steele on Sat, Nov 24, 2018 @ 11:21 AM

The importance of phonological skills cannot be underestimated in teaching English as an additional language. Phonological awareness is understanding the sounds (phonemes) of the English language and knowing the symbol or letter (grapheme) that represents those sounds.

A person who speaks, French, Spanish, Latin or German based languages are familiar with the English alphabet. There may be some differences with accents over letters, but the recognition of each letter is there with many similar sounds. English is derived from Latin, Greek and Germanic languages.

The alphabet and its related sounds are not as familiar to the student from a language that has an entirely different alphabet. This includes Russian, Persian-Farsi, Japanese or Chinese. The beautiful calligraphy of Chinese and Japanese has no relation to English.  Some of the letters in the Russian alphabet do match English. The Greek alphabet also has some similar letters and sounds.

Phonological or phonemic skills are developed by recognizing the letters and the sounds they make when spoken. The next step is putting it all together in speaking and reading. A native English speaker learning another language may experience the same problem learning the sounds and usage of the same letters in French or German.

Where are you from?

Knowing the student's origin will help in teaching them to recognize sounds. People from countries that don't use the Latin alphabet will have to learn to read again even though they read fluently in Arabic or Korean. They are starting over much as English speaking children learn to read.

Chances are the people learning English as a second or even third language are familiar with some phrases. They may be able to piece together a few English words. However, they may not be able to read that phrase if it is written out. They will learn to manipulate the sounds and written language into sentences as they improve their English skills.

Short sounds

Many ESL teachers begin by teaching the short vowel sounds in alphabetical order. Repetition is most important with drills and practice. Blended computer lab programs that involve reading along with working with individual teachers help students to become familiar with the basic sounds and how they are used to spell words.

They move on to learn the hard consonant sounds and rhymes. They are able to identify t,p,g,n,m,  sounds. They progress to other consonants and understand how the sounds blend together to form words and sentences.  Major emphasis is placed on reading and writing sentences as well as speaking. 

Rhyming, used with young children, works with adults as well to understand sounds. It starts with simple games such as learning how many words can be made from using it as a root word. Students learn to recognize the hard consonant sounds that form words such as pit and fit.

These are basic steps in building phonological skills for English Language Learners. More advanced programs teach the difference between spelling with the ph (as in phonics) and the f (as in fan).  Every effort is made to help students improve their English reading and spelling which has rules that are frequently broken. 

Hearing, speaking and reading English are the result of well-developed phonological skills. Study, practice and immersion in an English-speaking environment will help to build those skills.

Dr. Linda Siegel's research clearly shows the importance of phonological awareness and teaching English as a Second Language.  Her work show the evidence how important this is. 

Linda Siegel

At the Halifax Learning Centre we have used the SpellRead program with ESL learners in Nova Scotia and also abroad in China, and in the United States.  We also did a program with Chinese pilots wanting to perfect their English language pronunication skills.  

For more information on any of our programs please email: information@halifaxlearning.com.

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