Intrinsic Phonological Awareness

Definitive Article

Intrinsic Phonological Awareness

In a a study of 38 preschool children (3 and 4 years old) a set of phonological awareness tasks were assessed three times over the course of a year. The tasks used were rhyme and alliteration matching tasks with distractor items that were either semantically or phonologically related to the target. In both tasks, the children found the distractors matched for phonological similarity more difficult to reject than the semantically related distractors or the unrelated distractors.

“Jimmy, I did not understand that!”
Neither did I at first, but here are some key words to help you along:

Phonology - 音系学
the system of contrastive relationships among the speech sounds that constitute the fundamental components of a spoken language.

Semantic - 语义的
Relating to meaning in language or logic

Alliteration - 头韵
the occurrence of the same letter or sounds at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

Rhyme - 押韵
Correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words, especially when these are used at the ends of lines of poetry.

Distractor - 错误选择
An incorrect option in multiple choice questions.

“Jimmy, now I know some new words … but I still don’t get it!”
Basically: some children were given multiple choice questions based on matching rhyme and alliteration. When the wrong answers read aloud sounded similar, more students chose the wrong answers. When the wrong answers had similar meanings, less students chose the wrong answers.

“Jimmy, come on! What does that mean for me in the classroom?”

1. We biologically interpret semantics and phonology differently.

  • Phonological similarity between words can make it harder to match rhyme and alliteration.
  • It is possible that phonology and semantics use different parts of the brain.
  • If the tasks were set for semantic matching, would the phonological or semantic items prove more of a distraction?
  • Another question raised by reading this article: Do the phonological distractors provide more challenge because the shape of the word is similar or because the sounds are similar?


2. Phonological Items Trump Semantics

  • Language is made up, therefore the meaning of the items is learned in time with exposure/instruction.
  • Phonemic awareness is acquired before semantic meaning.
  • The Phonics Reading Pyramid is true!pyramid


3. Control Phonological Factors when Designing Phonological Awareness Tasks

  • Because similar phonological items cause strong distraction in phonological tasks – during your Phonics summer course think about the phonological items you use in class when lesson planning.
  • Isolate new sounds in presentation to learners.


How are your phonics lessons going?
Do your learners find similar phonological words difficult?
What activities do you use in your phonics class?
Do you focus on single phonological items when presenting new sounds?
Have you ever had a class not acquire language/phonological items due to distractors?

Comment below, let me know.


Reference for this article:
JULIA M. CARROLL and MARGARET J. SNOWLING (2001). The effects of global similarity between stimuli on children’s judgment of rime and alliteration. Applied Psycholinguistics, 22, pp 327-342.

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