Phonics vs Phonemic Awareness & What You Need To Know


I will start by sharing a little secret with you. Even though I taught my son the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that each letter makes, at the time, I did not understand the difference between Phonics vs Phonemic Awareness. 

When you read the multitude of information on the topic, it can be quite overwhelming, and you can come away, still not understanding the difference.

In this post, I will explain how, although connected, Phonics and Phonemic Awareness are, different and what the difference is.

Phonics vs Phonemic Awareness

Let’s start at the beginning. 

We all know the 26 letters of the English alphabet, and we understand that each of these letters makes a sound.

However, there are 44 sound units in the English language. These sounds are known as phonemes

Then there are 250 different spellings for these sounds and 1,768 ways of pronouncing them – quite staggering when you think about it.

Here are some examples

The letter f, for example, can be spelt four different ways – ph, gh, f or ff (graph, laugh, leaf or fluff)

The ch sound can be pronounced differently as in chefchiefchoirchaos;

As your child continues to increase their vocabulary, you will realise that there is a lot more to reading and understanding the English Language than meets the eye.

Phonics vs Phonemic Awareness

The diagram below provides an overview of Phonics vs Phonemic Awareness (you can download and print a copy here)

Phonics vs Phonemic Awareness Diagram

Phonemic Awareness has nothing to do with the printed word. It is about understanding that each phoneme makes a sound. Phonics focuses on the relationship between sounds and letters, and your child then applies this knowledge when decoding words that they have not read before.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between Phonics and Phonemic Awareness. 


The alphabet lies at the core of any phonics program. Your child must know the letters of the alphabet and the corresponding sound. The goal when teaching phonics is to help your child understand that the relationship between letters in the alphabet and the spoken sounds is logical, predictable and organised.

If you want to teach your child to read, then I recommend that you consider using The Children Learning Reading Program it is a simple and effective method based on Phonics and Phonemic Awareness.

You can read my review of the Children Learning Reading program here.

Now you know the difference between Phonics and Phonemic Awareness. How do these fit into the overall term Phonological Awareness?

Related Article:

8 Activities to Teach Your Child Phonemic Awareness

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is a general understanding of how language is structured. We speak in sentences which are made up of words. These words can be broken down into syllables and then onset-rime (explained below). The smallest part of a word is a phoneme.

Your child has Phonemic Awareness when they have an understanding that words are made up of phonemes. Phonemic Awareness is a skill under the umbrella of Phonological Awareness.

Phonological Awareness involves skills that are crucial for reading and spelling success. This Reading Mama has some fantastic reading and spelling resources that can help you teach your child to read that are worth checking out.

Think of Phonological Awareness as an umbrella. Under this umbrella, several sub-categories are ranging in complexity level.

Phonological Awareness Diagram

Below is an explanation of these skills with examples.

  1. Rhyming and Alliteration
    • Rhyming refers to similar word endings such as cat and mat. Rhyming storybooks are great for reading with your children. I am partial to a rhyming book or two.
    • Alliteration refers to similar word beginnings. There are some real tongue twister examples out there; I still cannot say “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…”
  1. Words in Sentences
    • The ability to understand that sentences comprise of individual words. 
  1. Syllable Awareness
    • A syllable is a part of a word that contains one vowel sound. For example, ‘ look' has one syllable, and ‘captivate' has three syllables cap-ti-vate
  1. Onset and Rime 
    • Onset is the section of the word before a vowel, and the rime is the vowel and consonants that follow it. For example, in the word ‘cat’, c- is the onset, and -at is the rime. In ‘stick’, st- is the onset, and -ick is the rime. Not all words have onsets, for example, ‘ill’ or ‘axe’. 
  1. Phonemic Awareness 
    • This is the most complexed skill of phonological Awareness. It is about understanding that each phoneme makes a sound and being able to manipulate these sounds. There are several skills necessary to achieve Phonemic Awareness.
      • Segmenting – This is the ability to separate words into phonemes. For example:
        • ‘mat’ has three phonemes: m/a/t
        • ‘coat’’ has three phonemes: c/ō/t
        • ‘dough’ has only two phonemes: d/ō
      • Blending – This is the ability to put sounds together to make a word. For example: Knowing that the sounds in the word ‘dog' are /d/o/g and that these sound when put together make the word ‘dog’. 
      • Isolation – This is the ability to recognise individual sounds in words. For example: /m/ is the beginning sound of ‘mat’ and /t/ is the end sound of ‘mat’.
      • Manipulation and Substitution – This is the ability to be able to manipulate a word by changing one sound. For example: Changing the /t/ in ‘mat’ to /p/ to make a different word being ‘cap’

Below are some tips and resources to help you teach your child to read.

Tips and Resources

  1. YouTube – is an excellent source of videos and songs that will help with teaching your child letter sounds.
  2. Magnetic or Bath Letter Tiles – I had a set of both for my son, the magnetic ones are great for the fridge, and you can have lots of fun arranging the letters to make simple words.
  3. Phonics Flashcards and Games – This Reading Mama has some great resources
  1. Invest in a Reading Program or App – Children Learning Reading is a great program that teaches your child to read in a very sequential way, and it only takes about 10-15 minutes a day. There are also Reading Apps that you can download.
  2. Read to your Child – Reading aloud to your child is a great way to spend quality time with your child while also teaching them to love reading and books. There are lots of fun way you can introduce reading into pretend play as well; you can read my article 10 Great Ways to Encourage Your Child to Read for some ideas.

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.

Frederick Douglas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *